Back to school events drew the attention of the two major candidates in the race for governor. Republican Gov. Scott Walker visited a suburban charter school, while Democratic candidate Tony Evers, head of the Department of Public Instruction, went to an MPS school.
Walker made an early morning appearance at the first independent charter school in Waukesha County, La Casa De Esperanza.
He also released an ad touting his plan to expand youth apprenticeships to younger children, a message he reiterated at a Rotary Club appearance later in the day. The program currently connects 11th and 12th grade students to employers.
“We need every student to graduate … with a game plan for what their career’s going to be, no matter what it might be,” Walker said. “And that’s why in addition to more than doubling the amount of youth apprenticeships, it’s about moving youth apprenticeships to make them available for seventh and eighth graders as well as all four years of high school.”
Walker asserts that making the program available to younger students will let them figure out earlier which careers interest them, make them more excited about school and improve graduation rates. He said that last school year, Wisconsin started funding academic and career planning for students as young as sixth grade.
“What that really is about is looking at the model that you sometimes see in Europe, particularly in places like Germany and Switzerland — the difference being there they kind of mandate it, we don’t want to mandate it,” Walker said. “But we want to start our young people thinking early on about what are you good at? What are you interested in? What kind of career opportunities are out there? And then get them on the pathway towards success there.”
While Walker used the first day of school to focus on apprenticeships, his opponent Tony Evers had different priorities. One of them is funding public schools.
He stopped at a traditional MPS school on the northwest side: Maple Tree Elementary School. Evers says he chose MPS because it’s the largest district and the most important for future success of the state.
“I’ve done this every single year, no matter who the superintendent is and the board members are, because I believe that the kids in this school district need additional resources and need help,” Evers said. “Many of them come from very difficult circumstances, and it’s up to the public schools, frankly, to lift them up to their dreams.”
He discussed Walker’s cuts to public education in previous state budgets and says his budget would be different. Evers also said he wants the state to pay two-thirds of the cost of public education.
Evers says he wouldn’t burden middle class taxpayers by increasing property taxes, and that there will be other places to save or to “ensure that the funding system works.”
He wants to freeze the voucher program, which allows families to use taxpayer money to send their children to approved private and charter schools.
Evers says he takes issue less with the type of instruction that voucher schools provide, but more with whether the schools take resources away from public school systems.
“I’ve kicked out lots of voucher schools that have been bad actors, and I’ve prevented lots of voucher schools from being part of the funding scheme, but the bottom line is: we need to have more accountability and transparency.”
One way for there to be more accountability and transparency, says Evers, is for property taxes to list how much money is going toward public schools, what part toward voucher schools, what part toward county and city government.
Education policy is expected to be a hot topic from now until the Nov. 6 elections.