Nowhere is the need to turn things upside down more pressing than in education.
Tony Evers has been in the Wisconsin education driver’s seat for more than two decades — as DPI Deputy Superintendent, DPI Superintendent, and now Governor. He owns the record of unacceptable academic achievement now facing the state. It is time to transfer power to parents from him and the public school establishment.
The pandemic has awakened Wisconsin parents. They want more information and more control. They want their schools to respond to their concerns. If a school isn’t working for their child, they want the freedom to find a better option.
Under a Michels administration, the balance of power will shift fundamentally. The top-down mindset of the education establishment will yield to the wishes of parents. The iron grip of teachers unions will no longer hold Wisconsin students hostage.
At Michels Corporation, if we are not innovating to meet the needs of our customers, we are losing. Our education system must be no different. Parents are the customers and they need educational options that meet their needs. Academic Achievement and Parental Satisfaction will be the two key benchmarks upon which we judge the quality of our schools.
The difference between my approach and Tony Evers is stark. As DPI Superintendent he actually declared it would be “morally wrong” to give parents more educational choices. As Governor, his proposed freeze on school choice would have harmed one of Wisconsin’s most successful programs. His vetoes of education bills were a thumb in the eye of taxpaying Wisconsin families and the children we are failing.
Wisconsin taxpayers have doubled their support of K-12 education since 1970, yet student performance continues to decline. Yes, doubled the amount of gross inflation adjusted dollars put into education. The return on that investment has been unacceptable. The most recent state test results show Math and English language proficiency at less than 40% — a record low.
Tony Evers abetted the problem during the pandemic, offering no resistance to school closures that far exceeded reasonable public health guidelines. Students were denied access to effective education.
Despite a doubling of taxpayer support, there has never been a time when the education establishment deemed funding sufficient. The call from Tony Evers and DPI is always: not enough, we need more, always more. More, more, more. It’s a mindset that must be challenged. For starters, we need to call out the fact that nearly half of K-12 spending is outside the classroom and that, in a majority of Wisconsin school districts, there is more than one non-teacher employee for every teacher. The priority for tax dollars must be in the classroom. But we need to not merely focus on how much taxpayer funding goes into schools, we should care more about what Wisconsin families get out of them. Spending is not achieving.
1) Improve Reading Right Away. Literacy is the passport to all future learning. Wisconsin has stood by, and even supported, reading instruction methods that simply do not work. Longstanding proponents of the failed methods now acknowledge the need for change. Yet Tony Evers and the education establishment opposed legislation to address this failure. In my business, or any business, if something is failing you stop doing it.
Students who do not read proficiently by third grade are four times more likely not to graduate from high school. Follow the science behind reading and increase literacy tests while requiring educators to create a personalized reading plan for every student. Raise literacy scores for Wisconsin 3rd graders by 75 percent in four years.
The state must adopt legislation that sets higher standards for reading proficiency, drives proven science of reading instruction methods, and gives parents the transparency needed to choose schools that follow the practices that work. Nothing is more important than ensuring every child can read at grade level or above. This must be a priority.
In vetoing SB 454, Tony Evers went so far as to say there is not enough money to do the job right. I will propose legislation that sets higher standards for reading proficiency, drives proven science of reading instruction methods, and gives parents the transparency needed to choose schools that follow the practices that work.
2) Empower and Trust Parents to Choose Properly. While many parents are satisfied with their traditional public schools, a growing number of them are not. In the 1990’s, Wisconsin launched the school choice movement by allowing some parents to choose private schools while giving others new options within the public sector.
The research is clear that options produce results. Private school choice students score higher on the college-readiness ACT test and have higher levels of academic proficiency. Milwaukee choice students are more likely to graduate from high school and are less likely to be involved in crime. Most Milwaukee choice and charter students attend schools rated highly by DPI.
Barriers to these programs must be removed so that all families have the choices that have been only available to some. I support school choice for all Wisconsin families. Financial obstacles must be removed. Under my leadership, Wisconsin families will have access to a school that meets their needs, regardless of their income or zip code.
3) Sign the Parental Bill of Rights. Tony Evers vetoed a bill that would have given parents the right to know what is happening in their public schools. Families across the political and geographical landscape agree that all parents deserve a seat at the table when it comes to understanding what is being taught in their children’s schools. Parents must know if schools are focusing more on math and reading – or instead advancing a curriculum rooted in Critical Race Theory, one that identifies and divides students as either oppressors or oppressed.
The many Wisconsin families who reject such indoctrination need the ability to raise concerns without being shouted down. They need the power, if necessary, to enroll their children elsewhere. Giving parents more authority should be married with more positive leadership from Madison. Wisconsin parents must have the right to send their children to the schools that are best for them rather than being forced to attend schools based on where they live.
4) Promote Career Technical Education. The path to some of the best jobs and opportunities does not solely run through a four-year college or university. In fact, far too many find themselves saddled with a huge debt but without a meaningful career.
At Michels Corporation, we hire many high school graduates ready to join the workforce. The state can take the lead in supporting programs aimed at such students. This would include expansion of CTE Technical Incentive Grants so all students can earn trade certifications — under Tony Evers (at DPI and as Governor) he prioritized public schools. Tony Evers actually vetoed a bill to provide more resources and access to youth apprenticeship programs.
5) Expand Apprenticeships. We will assure that all parents and students are aware of their options in the world of work that involves only a technical school education, an apprenticeship in the trades, or a certificate; and we will add resources to schools so that courses in these occupations can be added to high school curriculums giving our children a head start on careers. Most importantly, we will require our UW system and Technical College system to accept dual credits for coursework done in high school that meets their requirements. Right now these institutions are refusing to recognize these credits for the crass reason that they don’t want to lose revenue.
6) Secure our Schools. School safety is on every parent’s mind, and rightfully so. We need to learn from the tragic lessons of Uvalde. I will convene parents, educators, and law enforcement to develop specific prevention and security plans. This will include a Governor’s Conference on Safety every June to review developments of the past school year and prepare for the next. I will support renewal of Wisconsin’s School Safety Grants, an initiative started by Republicans in 2017. Access to funding, training, and resources should never be a barrier for schools when prioritizing student safety.
7) Increase Turnout in School Board Elections: Teacher unions financially dominate low-turnout and supposed non-partisan spring elections for local school boards and the state superintendent of public instruction. Parents will have a much greater impact at the ballot box if those elections are moved to the fall. The predictable opposition to this idea will stand as clear proof that making the shift would give parents — the taxpayers and customers, after all — a greater say.