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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Insider vs. Outsider in State Superintendent Race

Candidates have very different views of public education

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The statewide election for the new superintendent of public instruction is wide open, since the current state superintendent, Elizabeth Burmaster, has opted not to run for re-election.

The two candidates, Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers and Rose Fernandez, a trauma center administrator and former president of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families, are running as the insider and outsider. Voters will make their decision on April 7.

Tony Evers: Continue Reforms with Proper Oversight

Tony Evers has been stressing his 34 years of experience in public education as an asset, telling a recent Public Policy Forum audience that public education and libraries are “the foundation of our democracy and the engine of our economy.”

Evers said that he’s had a hand in adding more accountability to and state oversight of public school reforms, most notably the effort to make Milwaukee Parental Choice Program schools—Milwaukee’s voucher schools—more transparent. Evers said he helped to develop “landmark legislation” that provided more accountability for vouchers, but that he does not support expanding them outside of the city of Milwaukee because there is no reliable data showing that voucher schools are better than public schools. He said that charter schools have increased in number from 40 to 221 in the past eight years, which gives parents more options for their children.

Evers said that ongoing challenges include ensuring that the system of financing education is stable and fair, and provides the same opportunities to children around the state regardless of “the good fortune of where they’re born.” He said there’s a great disparity between higher-spending districts and lower-spending districts, and that this is the “perfect time” to look at school funding “because no additional money is on the table” this year.

Evers told the Shepherd before the February primary that his plans for MPS include continuing to work with the district on its No Child Left Behind-mandated corrective action plan. He does not support eliminating the elected MPS board and replacing it with an appointed board. He said that regional links among schools, technical colleges, other educational institutions and social welfare agencies should be fostered.

For more information about Tony Evers, go to www.tonyevers.com.

 

Rose Fernandez: More Choice, Fewer Restrictions

Rose Fernandez is running as an outsider who is willing to change the “status quo” by fostering more choice for parents and expanding the voucher system statewide and other alternative education models.

She said her experience with the virtual school movement—her only involvement in education issues before running for state superintendent—was eye-opening. Fernandez was president of the Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families when a state appellate court ruled that one online school, the Northern Ozaukee School District’s Wisconsin Virtual Academy, broke state laws governing charter schools, open enrollment and teacher licensing requirements. (Among other things, the court found that licensed teachers only had four hours of contact with students per month, and parents were doing the vast majority of teaching.)

Fernandez told the Public Policy Forum that she played a role in negotiations to enact a new law governing online charter schools in early 2008, but news reports from that time show that her organization supported a bill sponsored by state Rep. Brett Davis (R-Oregon) and Rep. Daniel LeMahieu (R-Cascade), which would have allowed virtual schools to continue to operate with state money and no oversight. Her organization opposed a bill sponsored by state Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine), which imposed them to continue to operate. The resulting bipartisan legislation largely kept the limits proposed by Lehman.

The Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families, which Fernandez describes as a “grassroots organization,” spent $110,190 on lobbying efforts during that time. They employed two lobbyists: Richard Chandler, secretary of the Department of Revenue under Gov. Scott McCallum, and Christopher Mohrman, a member of the Tommy Thompson administration for eight years.

In a pre-primary interview with the Shepherd, Fernandez said that she intends to temporarily suspend the MPS board and install a “turnaround team” appointed by her, the Milwaukee mayor and the Milwaukee County executive.

“The panel would be empowered hire and fire the MPS superintendent, renegotiate work rules and benefits and pensions of the teachers, and to look safety in all of the district’s buildings,” Fernandez said. “The panel would also put in place more stringent academic standards and look at our curriculum across grade levels and look for ways to improve the quality and raise the expectations we have in the district. We also need to look at renegotiating pension benefits of all new employees the district.”

For more information about Rose Fernandez, go to www.changedpi.com.

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