Steven Walters
The State Of Politics

Evers, Holtz, Offer Real Clash On Issues

Incumbent state superintendent and challenger have fierce disagreements.

By - Feb 27th, 2017 12:20 pm
Tony Evers and Lowell Holtz.

Tony Evers and Lowell Holtz.

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.

The election between incumbent Tony Evers, who is seeking a third four-year term, and challenger Lowell Holtz, a former Principal of the Year and Beloit superintendent, gives voters a real choice.

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.

Evers is continuing the long, unsuccessful tradition of school superintendents opposing vouchers. But, knowing that choice-championing Republicans control the Capitol and the program isn’t ending, Evers said: Enough! No more expansions! And make those private schools participating accountable, so parents know how their children in private schools are really doing. Choice subsidizes families who had already been paying to send their children to private schools, Evers adds.

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.

Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. Contact him at

5 thoughts on “The State Of Politics: Evers, Holtz, Offer Real Clash On Issues”

  1. Rich says:

    You can only make the claim that the original MPCP was about poor minorities from 1990 to 1995. After that, it was discovered as a way for additional corporations to get on the government teat. Is it any wonder that “school choice” attracts billions in dark money funding to sway public opinion? No one that loves money will sink that kind of cash after something that won’t generate a return.

    Let’s have full choice then…but it has to come with full accountability, transparency and responsibility. Otherwise, the “haves” will (still) have their education and “the rest” won’t, except “the rest” will be subsidizing the “haves”. This repeats at any level, unless you’re at the top, so don’t think it doesn’t affect you and your kids.

    When the parents of the special needs kids choose to send their kids to a school that doesn’t currently have appropriate support staff, guess what, they should have to hire them and make it work — you’ve already killed the unions(‘ power), so what’s a few more teachers? That’s what’s expected of public school, why not everywhere else? The opposite doesn’t make “better” education for the populace as a whole, unless we’re picking winners and losers.

  2. Vincent Hanna says:

    Didn’t the emails One Wisconsin released basically confirm Holtz is just a puppet willing to do whatever the state GOP tells him? And if you want to see what happens when people like DeVos take over education, look at Michigan’s schools. Detroit has the second-most charter schools of any school district in America, and there’s no oversight and their performance is overall terrible. Thanks to people like DeVos. So yippee.

  3. Rita Brunkow says:

    The federal money that Holtz wants to shift to Wisconsin charter schools is now hard at work helping kids with learning disabilities and special needs in our schools. Parents and teachers and those kids depend on those funds now and use them to good advantage now and have the training and experience now to continue doing a great job. Do not try to fix what is not broken. Those monies will dry up over time as Republicans “deconstruct” just as money for education overall in our Wisconsin has deconstructed vital and necessary services like transportation and education in favor of corporate welfare and corporate tax breaks. I trust Evers to do the best job to hold leaders accountable to use those monies for what they are intended for if the U.S. Dept of Ed is indeed “deconstructed.” I do not trust Holtz or any other Republican where oaths to the Republican party are important than personal integrity and the people you are supposed to serve. Holtz elected to this important office would mean a further breakdown of our once free, fair, and equal public educational system to an unequal one based on the funding whims of an administration indifferent to the very idea of a liberal education, although open to one to flood the market with those prepared for serfdom so wages can stay low. We must recognize what the lack of a liberal education leads to in our populace. We are facing the very real threat of losing our democracy. Down with deconstruction! Up with strengthening our schools for our kids’ futures! Vote Evers!!

  4. Philip Potratz says:

    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.

    That statement by Evers says a lot. They talk about race and impact of poverty, but what actual steps have been taken by the DPI to work with business leaders, parents and the communities to make a significant improvement in the graduation rate between white students and minority students?

    Lowell Holtz as superintendent of the Beloit school district which had a worse rate than either Milwaukee or Madison brought the community together to make a dramatic improvement in the graduation rate gap. It has lasted long after he has left the Beloit position. The graduation rate of blacks in Beloit is around 90% and Hispanics is almost 100%.

    I want a superintendent of our public schools who will work with the communities and their leaders to bring about a real change for the good of our children and not just talk about it.

    Each district is different so the solution to the problems in that district has to be achieved through a cooperative effort with the DPI. Local control of our schools is important rather than a a top down approach that Evers has espoused over his years in office.

    I really believe that Lowell Holtz has the best interests of the children of our state in his heart. We want to see all of our children be successful students, who have an opportunity to be successful adults.

  5. Vincent Hanna says:

    After those emails were revealed, along with the deal he tried to strike with Humphries, how can anyone claim with a straight face that Holtz has the best interests of the children of our state in his heart? He has his own best interests in mind along with doing whatever it takes to bend his positions so that they align with GOP legislators.

    DPI has taken steps. You are just choosing to ignore them. There’s the Promoting Excellence for All endeavor. And a partnership between DPI and the Wisconsin Center for Education Research that’s working to identify best practices in the state that are working to close the achievement gap.

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