State Superintendent for Public Instruction Tony Evers, D-Madison, is announcing his candidacy for governor today. What kind of governor would he be? Judging from how Evers’ has handled the federal replacement for No Child Left Behind, not a good one.
In one of the rare moments of bipartisanship in Washington under President Barack Obama, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program was replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. It was not just exchanging one clever name for a better acronym. ESSA gave states more flexibility for using federal dollars to fix failing schools.
Some states have been bolder than others in creating ESSA plans. Put Wisconsin in the “others” category.
As CJ Szafir and Libby Sobic of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty explain in a op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, the ESSA process in Wisconsin has been controlled by Evers.
“To create the illusion of accountability, Mr. Evers formed the Equity in ESSA Council, an advisory board made up of legislators, school administrators, union leaders and education reformers,” Szafir and Sobic wrote. “In truth, however, the council has no power to set the agenda or control the provisions of the state’s ESSA proposal.”
As Wisconsin Watchdog reported, the chairman of the state Assembly committee on education was kept completely in the dark about the ESSA Council until it was brought to his attention by the reporter. So much for being able to work with the legislature.
Evers used that autonomy to protect the status quo. As Szafir and Sobic wrote:
This flawed process has resulted in a flawed plan, one that reflects the status quo mind-set of the state bureaucracy. The proposal suggests, for example, that school administrators “engage with families and the local community” as one way to meet ESSA’s requirement of “rigorous state-determined action” to fix low-performing schools. Compare that with New Mexico’s plan, under which rigorous action includes forced closure of schools or charter-school takeovers. In Wisconsin, more than 53,000 children attend schools that failed to meet expectations according to last year’s state report card, and they deserve more than “engagement.”
The Wisconsin plan would also pass up the opportunity for the state to assume greater discretion over federal education dollars. Delaware’s proposal, by contrast, would use federal funding to drive improvement: Each low-performing school would receive an allotment based on enrollment while also competing for additional merit-based awards. Wisconsin’s education department has declined to consider similar ideas.
So far, ESSA has been a missed opportunity for Wisconsin, a state struggling with low-performing public schools and the widest racial achievement gap in the country.
Given Evers oft-stated criticisms without foundation of school choice, his protection of educators with very troubling records, his refusal to take an active role in fixing failing Milwaukee Public Schools and his opposition to Act 10, Evers’ behavior regarding ESSA reforms should not be surprising. We have a pretty good picture of what kind of leader of Wisconsin Evers would be, and the Democrats should try to do better when picking their party’s nominee for governor.