Evers On Governor Run, New K-12 Funding

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Premiere Date: 
September 1, 2017

Evers On Governor Run, New K-12 Funding

For tonight's Closer Look, we sit down with Tony Evers, current Superintendent of Public Instruction and newly announced gubernatorial candidate. He talks about why he thinks he can beat Scott Walker, and weighs in on the current status of K-12 funding. Responding to current political trends, Evers articulates a desire to get the budget done and a wariness of the Foxconn deal.

Episode Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

A closer look tonight at the spending plan the legislature's Joint Finance Committee passed on party lines this week for K12 schools. The budget plan increases school funding by $639 million over two years, giving schools an additional $200 per student this school year and another $204 next year. The plan also allows low-spending districts to boost their per pupil spending to $9,300, going to $9,800 in five years. The package also expands the statewide school choice program, allowing a higher income to be eligible. This means an additional 550 students could participate. We begin our next interview on the topic of the state education budget and then we will branch out to other political themes because our next guest is the current superintendent of public instruction, Democrat Tony Evers, who has also announced his candidacy for governor. Evers has been the state school chief since 2009. He's a former school principal as well as a former district superintendent. Tony Evers joins us now and thanks very much for doing.

Tony Evers:

Thanks for the invite. Appreciate it.

Frederica Freyberg:

So what is your reaction and response as state school superintendent to the K12 plan as passed by the Joint Finance Committee?

Tony Evers:

Well, first of all, I wish they would get done. The timing of it is becoming problematic, especially for many of our small, sparsely populated districts, where they usually get their first check on that in September and it just won't happen. So that will be a problem. But the budget itself, there's winners and losers. Clearly I’m pleased that the governor took my position around increasing some funding. But there's some also problematic things. The choice expansion was a little bit unexpected because the governor didn't put anything as far as expanding choice in the budget. And furthermore, it expanded it by making it more -- less for poor kids and more for all kids. And that will cost districts money. I mean, especially those kids that normally already go to a private school. They'll now be eligible for a voucher. And that's going to cost money. And local taxpayers will end up paying for that.

Frederica Freyberg:

There’s been a lot of talk over the years really about rural school districts and their needs. How does this budget out of the Joint Finance Committee treat rural districts?

Tony Evers:

Well, in some respects pretty well. We have mental health initiatives that were part of my budget and also the governor's budget. But also sparsity aid had gotten quite a bit of increase, but at the end of the day that was scaled back and that was a problem. I think schools were expecting more. But the fact that it's being done and ended and solved so late in the day is going to prevent that first payment from going out. I know some small school districts have delayed actually hiring teachers because of that. So that's a major issue for us.

Frederica Freyberg:

On to your run for governor.

Tony Evers:

Yes.

Frederica Freyberg:

What sets you apart from the many other candidates throwing their hat in the ring?

Tony Evers:

Well, I think several things. One is I’ve won three statewide races. And the last time I won with 70% of the vote. I won 70 of 72 counties. And so I’ve had good support. Support by Democrats, independents and Republicans for that race. I think that sets me apart. Another is the fact that I have spent my life living a lot of it across the central part of the state. And so I love living in Madison, but also my family has lived in Tomah and Oakfield and Omro and Oshkosh. I was born and raised in Plymouth. So those things I think are an advantage. And the third thing, it's probably not all that I’d say sexy as it relates to politics, but I’ve actually run things. I've been in charge of a school, been in charge of a school district. I'm now in charge of a state agency that oversees 60,000 teachers and 860,000 kids. Those I think executive skills are really important, especially in this day and age.

Frederica Freyberg:

On the issues, in your mind what is the single most important thing Wisconsin needs to be to do for its education system?

Tony Evers:

We have to be consistent in providing resources for not only our K-12 kids, but also young people in the technical college system and the University of Wisconsin system. It's been very inconsistent. And frankly I think it's been underfunded. You know, if you think about work force development and making our economy stronger, making our democracy stronger, most economists would agree that the ability for us to invest regularly in our people will help economic development and also help our middle class. So that's where I’m starting my race and I think that's really important.

Frederica Freyberg:

So would that be the recipe then for growing good-paying jobs in Wisconsin?

Tony Evers:

Most people believe that. Most economists believe that. Clearly the present administration feels differently. They're willing to invest in tax credits and so on. And to be honest with you, we also have to do is look back in 2016, where the full tax credit for manufacturers was taking place. It was fully implemented. That year manufacturing jobs went down, as did manufacturing pay.

Frederica Freyberg:

What is your position on the incentive package, the deal for Foxconn?

Tony Evers:

Yeah. I believe it's a Hail Mary pass to some extent around the election, but it's a $3 billion package. I mean, that's a lot of money. Most economists around the country are saying, holy mackerel, that far exceeds anything else. So the problem is we know what's going in. We don't know what's coming out as far as wins for our state. It doesn't prioritize Wisconsin workers. It doesn't prioritize Wisconsin contractors. But going forward if we're writing checks to Foxconn in the neighborhood of $200 million annually, there's going to be less for health, for roads, for education and other areas.

Frederica Freyberg:

So you're opposed to it.

Tony Evers:

Yes. I'm opposed to it. First of all, it's likely to pass. I'm not foolish to believe that it's not. But if there are things that can be renegotiated, I will renegotiate those.

Frederica Freyberg:

The Affordable Care Act law is still in effect, as we all know. That being the case, would you accept expanded Medicaid or call for it?

Tony Evers:

Absolutely. We should have several years ago. Anytime, anytime I have an opportunity as governor to make sure that we expand the opportunities for people to get good health care, I will do it. And even, people forget about -- they talk about the downhill impact of Foxconn. Any money brought into the state, whether it's that money or federal money, has a spin-off. And so those -- that money from the federal government, we have lost and I would absolutely accept it going forward.

Frederica Freyberg:

How would you bolster funding for roads?

Tony Evers:

Well, I would be open to anything. And I think I would say that would be the first thing I’d try to work on, because I think it is a bipartisan issue. I've heard Robin Vos talking about a gas tax. I've heard other people talk about bonding. I think bonding is something that would be the least likely in my administration because we're already bonding a lot. Sooner or later at the point in time -- I have a three-year-old grandkid and he's going to be paying for the road construction when he's in his 20s from today. We have to start making it sustainable. I think the people of Wisconsin understand that. So I think bringing people together, I think we can reach a conclusion around that.

Frederica Freyberg:

Would you be in support of an increase in the gas tax?

Tony Evers:

If people -- yes. That would be a sustainable thing. And also indexing it. The way it was when we actually had -- when it actually worked is a possibility. But anything is on the table. I would entertain all comers on this issue.

Frederica Freyberg:

With a half a minute left so this isn't that fair, why do you think you could unseat Scott Walker?

Tony Evers:

First of all, I have good support across the state of Wisconsin. Second of all, his track record is really pretty shaky as relates to economic development, jobs. He hasn't met that criteria. His ability to make tax cuts work in this state and with trickledown economics, that hasn't worked. And frankly, his connection with our good president on a number of issues I think makes it a very doable thing. I plan to win. I am going to beat Scott Walker a year from this November.

Frederica Freyberg:

All right. Tony Evers, thanks very much for joining us.

Tony Evers:

Thank you.

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