Evers, Holtz, Offer Real Clash On Issues
Incumbent state superintendent and challenger have fierce disagreements.
The April 4 vote to elect the next superintendent of public instruction is a referendum on many issues: U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, school choice, the widest learning gap in the nation between white and African-American children, and Act 10.
Evers got 69 pecent of the statewide vote in the Feb. 21 primary; Holtz, 23 percent, and consultant John Humphries, of Dodgeville, 7 percent. Holtz and Humphries ended the primary in a “liar, liar” mud fight over whether they ever conspired to have the one who beats Evers hire the other one.
But, If you think that blowout primary victory means Evers can slow walk to victory April 4, think again. Third-party independent spending that demonizes one candidate – Evers – in a low-turnout spring election can make anything close. And Evers’s biggest statewide ally, the Wisconsin Education Association (state teachers union), is a shell of what it was in 2010.
Evers and Holtz disagree on many issues:
*DeVos: In a WisconsinEye interview, Evers said he is “more qualified” to be U.S. education secretary than DeVos, who never attended a public school and whose family has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to privatize public education. The U.S. education secretary has a “bully pulpit” to help the nation’s school children, but DeVos won’t be a “bully pulpit for all kids,” Evers added.
Holtz praised DeVos, calling her a “passionate” champion of local control for schools. And, DeVos could push for more federal aid to schools – public and private – that Wisconsin would welcome, Holtz added.
*School Choice: No state government program has grown faster than the school choice or vouchers program. It began in the 1990-91 school year when 300 low-income Milwaukee children attended seven private, non-religious schools at state expense. In 1995, Milwaukee’s Parental Choice Program was opened to church schools. This year, 30,541 students statewide – 27,302 in Milwaukee; 2,464 in Racine, and 2,993 statewide – attend private schools with state-issued vouchers. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, private schools with the largest enrollments are Hope Christian schools, 2,185; Saint Anthony School, 1,931, and Messmer Catholic Schools, 1,642.
The cost of the vouchers has also exploded – from $1.4 million in 1990-91 to $244 million this year, including both direct state aid and property taxes school districts levy to make up for lost aid.
Holtz said he wants unlimited “free-market competition” between public and private schools and he would have “no problem” if all income limits on voucher families were dropped, opening it to every family. Wisconsin cannot have too much school choice, Holtz added, noting that his father started a Milwaukee choice school after retiring as a Milwaukee police officer.
*Black-white achievement gap: In a WisconsinEye interview, Holtz called the failure of Evers’s Department of Public Instruction to close the learning gap between white and black children the “very epitome of institutionalized racism.”
As Beloit superintendent, Holtz said he worked with school administrators, business leaders and parents to dramatically increase what had been the dismal graduation rates and test scores of African-American students.
Evers bristled at Holtz’s criticism, saying DPI officials “spend a lot of time talking about race” – probably more than they spend talking the impact of poverty on learning, Evers said.
“We have called (race) out,” Evers added. “We’re taking it on.”
*Act 10: Holtz said the package of 2011 changes that all but wiped out collective bargaining and made teachers and other public employees pay more for health care and pensions has worked well. As Beloit superintendent, Act 10 meant Holtz didn’t have “to lay anybody off.”
Evers opposed Act 10, then and now. He is irked that only districts that require employees to pay 12 percent of health-care costs will qualify for a $200-per-pupil increase in state aid next year.
That change, Evers added, continues the anti-teacher and “pound of flesh” mentality of Act 10.