My wife Susan and I have endorsed Deb Kerr for Superintendent of Public Instruction. Here’s why, beginning with some history.
Programs that permit parents to choose private schools have existed in Wisconsin for thirty years. For most of that time, the DPI superintendent has been hostile to them. This began with sustained efforts in the 1990s by Herbert Grover and John Benson to either end the programs outright in court or to use administrative actions to flout the clear intent of the Legislature and Governor. Those efforts are detailed here and here in reports from the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (now the Badger Institute).
There was a respite in the 2000s. In 2001, newly elected Supt. Elizabeth Burmaster visited the Milwaukee offices of the state’s most active school choice supporters. She made it clear that she did not want to continue the administrative war on choice. Superintendent Burmaster was accompanied on that occasion by her deputy, Tony Evers.
Evers’ election as superintendent ended the detente. Evers revived the inflammatory rhetoric of Grover and Benson, stating at one point that expansion of private school choice was “immoral.” DPI under Evers became so petty that it unlawfully finessed the release of achievement data to obscure information that was favorable to school choice. It took a court order to end that practice.
The current campaign for an open seat as superintendent offers an important opportunity. The next superintendent can consign to history the hostile and occasionally unlawful conduct of an agency that should administer the law fairly and without bias.
In verbal and written exchanges, Kerr has been clear that she will not participate in or foster a “battle between education sectors.” She offers “a seat at the table” for all sectors. She identifies a lengthy list of educators active in the choice and charter world with whom she has worked. She affirms the importance and right of parents to make decisions about the schools their children attend.
Notable as well is Kerr’s success in her career as Brown Deer Schools Superintendent. It is a record that includes real progress in addressing the educational achievement gaps that persist in Wisconsin and that parental choice helps close.
This spring’s election is particularly important. The pandemic and related factors mean that more and more parents are clamoring for more ways to support their children’s education. The next superintendent can play a role in responding. Deb Kerr will put the needs of families, not school sectors, first.
George and Susan Mitchell were prominent leaders in the movement for school choice in Wisconsin. Susan Mitchell was a founder of School Choice Wisconsin.