Tony Evers (D), Wisconsin’s state superintendent of public education and a former teacher, won the governor’s race against incumbent Scott Walker (R). Walker, who has undermined teachers unions and supported the underfunding of public education in the state throughout this career as governor, recently tried to recast himself as a champion for public schools. Voters didn’t buy it.
Walker became governor in 2010, survived a recall effort, and was re-elected in 2014 with 52 percent of the vote. For years, he was considered a rising Republican star.
Walker signed legislation that stripped the majority of Wisconsin’s public sector unions of their collective bargaining rights and made it harder for unions to collect dues and cut education by $1.2 billion during his first five years as governor. The former resulted in sweeping protests at the state capitol in 2011. Madison schools closed due to teacher sickouts in response to this proposal. He has only recently supported education funding increases, which Evers has approved of, but it still didn’t make up for those slashed education budgets.
After Walker’s actions maimed teachers unions, 10.5 percent of public school teachers in the state left the teaching profession after the 2010-2011 school year, according to a 2017 Center for American Progress report. That is an increase of 6.4 percent from the previous school year. Teachers in the 2015-2016 school year had less experience than teachers in 2010-2011 school year. Many teachers are also switching districts to receive better pay, hurting rural districts with less resources.
Education was a big priority for voters this election. Twenty-four percent of registered voters said jobs and the economy were the most important issues facing the state, but 22 percent picked K-12 education, according to a Marquette University Law School poll taken in August. Nineteen percent of voters said health care coverage was the most important.
Only 15 percent of voters said schools were in better shape now than they were a few years ago, and 61 percent said they would prefer increased school spending to reduced property taxes. If Evers’ emphasis on education wasn’t clear enough throughout his campaign speeches and record as an educator, voters would have noticed his campaign vehicle was a yellow school bus.
Walker ran ads featuring teachers and school board members at Three Lakes School District in an attempt to counter his poor long-term record on education funding. In one ad, Wendy, a special education teacher, said “the governor’s funding for rural schools has really helped with transportation costs.”
But not everyone involved in the ad seemed to be aware of what was going on. The superintendent, George Karling, told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that although he knew the governor was visiting the school, he admits he “failed to vet the purpose of the Governor’s visit as thoroughly as I should have even though the intent and purpose was expressed to me.”
The ad mentioned fabrication laboratories, called Fab Labs, which are are high-tech workships that have 3Dprinters and laser engravers, for example. They were awarded by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., a public-private agency Walker created.
One of the people featured in the ad, Terry McCloskey, a school board member, said to the Sentinel, “I went over to thank the governor for the budget this year and for his help and assistance for education and they (the film crew) were doing something on the Fab Lab and I’m a big supporter of the Fab Lab and I got a little carried away and made a bad error.”
Walker’s overall education spending record has been poor. Adjusting for inflation, the seven budgets before Walker became governor all spent more money on schools than his current budget, according to Politifact.
Evers has supported raising the minimum wage, cutting taxes for the middle class, and spending more on public education and infrastructure. He proposes an increase in school funding of $1.4 billion over two years. He has also vowed to “take immediate action” to accept federal Medicaid expansion dollars and invest in preventive health programs.
Meanwhile Walker, who has strongly opposed the Affordable Care Act for a long time, said in February that he wanted to support the ACA market with a $200 million program compensating health insurers for high-cost patients. Days before the election, Walker said he wanted the “exact same language” on pre-existing conditions protections in the ACA to be enacted on the state level. Walker definitely isn’t the only Republican to make last-minute displays of support for coverage of pre-existing conditions. Walker has repeatedly refused federal funding for Medicaid expansion.
Walker’s Foxconn debacle also may have hurt him in the governor’s race. He said that $3 billion in state subsidies was worth a $10 billion investment from the company to build a facility making television screens, which he claimed would bring tens of thousands of jobs. Foxconn later said the plans had changed and in the short term, only 3,000 workers would be hired. The costs of the deal for the state increased. Environmental groups had concerns about the project.