Background, scope and path of the woke agenda in Wisconsin state government
May 4, 2021
By Bill Osmulski
Wisconsin is facing many challenges, but for Gov. Tony Evers, there’s no question about what needs to be the top priority.
“We have to make sure that we’re making equity and inclusion the most important issue in state government,” Evers said during the Governor’s Advisory Council on Equity and Inclusion meeting on Feb. 19, 2021.
Gov. Evers didn’t come up with that idea on his own. It’s the same Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) agenda liberals everywhere are pushing. Some call this “being woke.”
Diversity and inclusion might sound good at first, but to liberals those words are only tools in first demonizing and then fundamentally transforming America and our way of life. They give a hint at their ultimate goal when bringing up equity.
“We have to make sure that we’re making equity and inclusion the most important issue in state government,” Evers said.
Equity is not to be confused with equality, which means ensuring everyone has the same opportunities. Equity is the opposite of equality. Americans have long enshrined the idea of equality, believing that all people are created equal, with unalienable rights given to us by our creator. Equity, on the other hand, means everyone has the same outcomes, an idea rooted in communism, which is currently manifesting itself in America as Critical Race theory.
Jordan Peterson pointed out during his visit to UW-Madison in 2017 that equity is “an absolutely pathological idea. Nothing about it is good. It is impossible to implement. It’s fundamentally motivated by resentment. And it’s a lie.”
Critical Race Theory teaches that America is systematically racist, and DEI must be employed to fundamentally change it.
Evers’ equity and inclusion agenda is how he hopes to implement those policies in Wisconsin. He’s been working on this agenda for years, and since becoming governor, Evers is in a position to reshape state government according to that ideology.
2021-23 Budget Cycle
At the start of the current budget process, Gov. Evers instructed his state agency heads to make equity and inclusion a central theme in their budget requests. His final budget proposal released earlier this year includes over $50 million for equity and inclusion initiatives.
Just within the governor’s office itself, Evers wants to spend $5.2 million a year on his “Wisconsin for All” program. It would create a new cabinet level position for a chief equity officer. The program would fund a “diversity, equity and inclusion conference,” a fellowship program, and a “progress summit.” “Wisconsin for All,” would also set aside $232,800 a year for an “Equal Opportunity Paid Internship Program.”
Every state agency would add an equity officer position. To accommodate that, some agencies plan to reallocate existing positions and funds. For others, it could mean an additional expense of up to $81,000 a year. Every agency already has an equity and inclusion officer, but it’s currently an additional duty assignment, not a full-time position.
“A diverse, equitable, and inclusive government and society benefits all of us,” Evers wrote in his budget.
Health Equity Council
Evers began prioritizing equity and inclusion long before the current budget cycle. He got the ball rolling on this agenda soon after taking office. In March 2019, he issued Executive Order #17. That created his Health Equity Council. Its mission was to “improve health outcomes and reduce disparities” based on race, income, education, etc.
The Health Equity Council includes the Lt. Gov., the Department of Health Services (DHS), and the Department of Children and Families (DCF) among its 34 members. In November 2019, Evers brought the rest of state government on board with the equity and inclusion agenda by issuing Executive Order #59, which created the Governor’s Advisory Council on Equity and Inclusion.
Governor’s Advisory Council on Equity and Inclusion
One of the Advisory Council’s main responsibilities is to look for ways to make Wisconsin laws, regulations, and policies more equitable and inclusive. Its 31 members includes Dr. LaVar Charleston, the UW-Madison diversity expert who believes everything from white, western culture needs to be purged from public education. Charleston recently advised Madison Schools that principles like keeping a class on schedule and teachers teaching too much are examples of white supremacy.
The order also required every state agency to create an affirmative action advisory committee and develop equity and inclusion action plans. For many agencies, it was their first significant step towards becoming “woke.”
“Equity and inclusion shall be the guiding principles and core values for every state workplace, program, activity, service, contract, and decision,” Evers wrote.
Like the state-level councils, the individual agency committees tend to be large – at least two dozen members each. It took months and several meetings for them to develop their action plans. They then formed equity and inclusion implementation committees to put the action plans into practice.
The agencies’ finished products are fairly lengthy and apply to years 2021-2023. They include a multitude of items that each seek to transform the office culture to become woke.
“We must intentionally address and dismantle individual and systematic racism,” Evers wrote in the order. “Equity and inclusion shall be the guiding principles and core values for every state workplace, program, activity, service, contract, and decision.”
After Evers issued his executive order, the Department of Revenue (DOR) dove right in. DOR not only formed the required advisory committee, it also formed a “SOAR Racial Justice Delivery Team” to generate recommendations for the committee. (SOAR is a management tool that stands for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results.) DOR now plans to work with local community groups to focus on DEI and plans to update its mission statement to include DEI principles. There will be mandatory training about implicit and explicit bias, regular anti-racism discussions, and other agency-wide events to promote DEI. Employees are encouraged to use their preferred pronouns in official email signature blocks. It’s also important to DOR to recruit, retain, and promote more under-represented groups than straight, white people. According to its action plan, DOR will include “DEI principles to yearly performance evaluations.”
In its action plan, DOR might be trying to make up for lost time. Other state agencies have already made a lot of progress towards becoming woke under Gov. Evers’ leadership. Some already had the groundwork in place, and only needed the right leader to take them to the next level.
Select State Agencies
Department of Administration
Gov. Evers didn’t have to start his equity initiatives from scratch when he came into office. For example, there was already the Division of Affirmative Action within the Department of Administration (DOA). He had that renamed to the Bureau of Equity and Inclusion (BEI).
BEI is in charge of providing the mandatory equity and inclusion training from Evers’ executive orders. One of those training packages is called “Unconscious Bias: Sparking a Conversation.” BEI is also responsible for helping agencies develop their equity and inclusion action plans.
In Gov. Evers’ 2021-2023 proposed state budget, DOA would also be responsible for awarding $10 million in grants to “public, private, and nonprofit entities in the state that promote diversity and advance equity and inclusion.”
The agency would also be responsible for hosting an annual diversity, equity, and inclusion conference for government employees in Wisconsin.
Children and Families
Gov. Evers’ made sure the Department of Children and Families (DCF) was on the ground floor of his equity and inclusion agenda. The agency was given two representatives on Evers’ Health Equity Council.
DCF also created its own Equity Advisory Council, in accordance with Executive Order #59. The first meeting featured a video on white privilege and the popular illustration showing the best way three people can steal admittance to a baseball game in the name of social justice.
The federal government gave DCF a “Preschool Development Grant Birth through Five” for $30 million, which the Advisory Council plowed into its equity and inclusion initiatives.
Evers’ budget proposal would make DCF responsible for administering another $10 million in equity and inclusion grants. Their instructions are vague. Evers simply says the grants are supposed to be distributed to “public, private, and nonprofit entities in the state that promote diversity and advance equity and inclusion.”
DCF explained this will help families and communities rebound from Evers’ COVID-19 Public Health Emergency. It fits into the equity and inclusion agenda because DCF believes “fostering economic security while promoting equity and inclusion are essential functions of local government and community agencies around the state.
The Department of Corrections created an “Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee” in 2020 and conducts staff training to “increase cultural competency and diversity awareness,” according to its strategic plan.
DOC brought in a vendor on Aug. 14th called FEI Behavior Health to provide diversity, equity, and inclusion training. FEI provides all kinds of organizational training packages and has been making big bucks in Wisconsin ever since Gov. Evers took office. Orders went from $36,300 in 2018 to $449,141 in 2019. FEI is in also charge of the state’s employee assistance program, which provides legal, financial, and life advice to employees. DOC, alone, is spending over $120,000 annually for FEI services.
Evers’ budget proposal would reestablish DOC’s Sentencing Review Council to study and make recommendations for items including “equity in sentencing.” Evers is troubled that white men are less likely to be in prison than minorities, and wants to change that. The Sentencing Review Council will help Evers reach that goal by going through the code line-by-line looking for ways to make it more equitable. Ultimately, Evers would like to see a “wholesale rewrite of Wisconsin’s criminal code.”
The Department of Health Services (DHS) is one of the main drivers behind the equity agenda in Wisconsin. COVID-19 is giving them a new reason to push health equity, and DHS claims minorities have been disproportionately affected by it. Although that’s not entirely true, DHS says systematic racism is to blame.
DHS has been all onboard with the equity agenda long before COVID-19, long before Gov. Tony Evers. It was talking about “Achieving Health Equity” as far back as 2017.
DHS got another jump start on other state agencies when Evers created the “Health Equity Council” (HEC). The council consists of the Lt. Gov., DHS secretary, DCF secretary, and anyone else the governor chooses. Planned Parenthood was at the top of the list.
One of HEC’s functions is to support all the equity items in the governor’s budget. For DHS this includes $400,000 in women’s health block grants with no restrictions on recipients (i.e. Planned Parenthood). Evers wants to provide $8 million for minority health grants, of which $3.5 million goes to organizations that “improve Black women’s health in Milwaukee, Dane, Rock, and Kenosha Counties.” There’s also $15 million for health equity grants.
The council has weighed in on how Gov. Evers’ should spend Wisconsin’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARRA) funding. One idea would provide “Funding for Youth lead community programs, communal social justice organizing workshops, Black radicalism, etc.”
The Health Equity Council talked about using the ARRA “funding for Youth lead community programs, communal social justice organizing workshops, Black radicalism, etc.”
During one meeting, HEC discussed “SMARTIE” goals. SMART goals are a management tool, where goals are: Strategic, Measurable, Ambitious, Realistic, and Time-bound. The additional “IE” in “SMARTIE” is for: Inclusion and Equity.
SMARTIE goals come from the Management Center, a Washington DC-based consulting firm that helps “social justice leaders learn how to build and run more effective, equitable, and sustainable organizations so that they can get better results.” The state has not hired them as a vendor, but progressive non-profits in Wisconsin have.
In February 2021, DHS announced it would provide $6.1 million in grants to community organizations to promote COVID-19 vaccinations in minority communities.
The grants would “help remove barriers to and promote acceptance of COVID-19 vaccination for communities that have and do face barriers to accessing medical care and people who have historical mistrust of the medical community and vaccines.”
Many liberal activist organizations were listed among the grant recipients like Voces de la Frontera (a radical immigrant activist organization) which got $50,000, 365 Media Foundation which got $49,500, and Planned Parenthood got $100,000. The Milwaukee Repertory Theater got $10,000 to produce “hip hop vaccination videos.”
Gov. Evers’ budget includes another $30 million for health equity grants. Those would be awarded to “community organizations and local health departments to implement health equity action plans.”
In December 2020, Attorney General Josh Kaul approved the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s “Equity and Inclusion Plan” for January 2021 to June 2023. It focused heavily on diversifying DOJ’s staff through targeted recruiting and retention programs. One approved strategy increases promotion rates for minorities in the department. One way DOJ plans to be more inclusive is to “remove bias associated with the social dynamics of telecommuting.”
DOJ distributed the plan to employees in January. It will hold a townhall for supervisors in June on how to implement it.
Kaul is fully committed to these goals. In November 2020, he signed onto a letter urging President Trump to not end government implicit bias training.
“Implicit bias trainings strengthen workplaces by helping them become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive. The federal government should be promoting implicit bias trainings, not interfering with them,” Kaul stated at the time.
DOJ also supports the equity and inclusion movement through grants. It gave the radical activist organization Freedom Inc. at least one grant to help crime victims. Ironically, Freedom Inc. helped create crime victims by supporting the riots throughout Madison last summer.
DOJ under Josh Kaul has given Freedom Inc. over $875,000 according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The MacIver Institute filed an open records request with DOJ last July to find out exactly how much money it’s given Freedom Inc since 2017. DOJ acknowledged the request, but has yet to fulfill it.
Evers budget adds a DOJ equity officer position at a total cost of $140,200 GPR.
Before he was governor, Tony Evers was the state superintendent. Therefore, it’s no surprise that Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is years ahead of other state agencies on its the equity and inclusion efforts.
“As the state education agency, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s mission is educational equity,” according to DPI’s website.
Back in 2014, DPI referred to an “equity gap,” in which the worst or least experienced teachers gravitated towards districts with large minority populations. It identified 9 school districts that were having the hardest time, and had them develop district equity plans to address the inequitable distribution of teachers.
Evers created the Wisconsin Equity in ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) Stakeholder Council in 2016 that included 35 members who met 8 times over the next year. Its purpose was to develop a plan to implement ESSA in Wisconsin and ensure equity.
When ESSA went away in 2017, Evers rebranded his council the Wisconsin State Superintendent’s Equity Stakeholder Council. Its new purpose was to develop recommendations for school districts to implement “Social and Emotional Learning,” again, with an emphasis on equity.
Eventually the concept of “white supremacy” began to enter the conversation. Dr. Decoteau Irby was the keynote speaker at Tony Evers’ last State Superintendent Conference in October, 2018. Irby spoke about white supremacy, structural racism, institutional racism, ideological racism, and racism among parents and teachers.
“Teachers are change agents,” State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor wrote.
The council continued after Evers left DPI and Carolyn Stanford Taylor took over as state superintendent.
When COVID-19 struck, schools moved to a “virtual classroom” model, and the council started talking about “digital equity.” It then began talking about developing a new “equity and inclusion plan.” Bureaucrats advanced the equity and inclusion agenda under the pretext of addressing “special needs.”
Public libraries – which DPI administers – were instructed, “The Division of Libraries and Technology interprets Wis. Stat. sec. 43.24(2)(k) ‘Promotion and facilitation of library service to users with special needs’ to encompass inclusive services… Inclusive services reflect equity and accessibility for all members of the community.”
After the death of George Floyd and the national unrest that followed in the summer of 2020, DPI dove into the Black Lives Matter movement. Although individual districts had been involved in BLM before, this marked a big shift for DPI.
“Black lives matter. Our systems and institutions must change to reflect this truth,” Standford Taylor wrote in a June 2020 editorial.
Lamenting that 98% of teachers in Wisconsin are white, Standford Taylor continued “I call upon our youth, especially our youth of color, who are demanding change and racial justice to become a teacher! Teachers are change agents.”
DPI collected resources to help teachers and parents talk to children on the subject. There was “Anti-Racism For Kids 101,” which included book recommendations for children ages 2 – 7 on subjects like “creating an anti-racist manifesto” and “Circumventing White Fragility.” Another recommended website was “Books About Racism and Social Justice,” featuring a book for preschoolers called “Antiracist Baby.”
Public libraries were given “three things you can do to promote anti-racism efforts in your library,” which encouraged them to work “toward collective liberation.” DPI told librarians they must take a leadership role in educating the public about racism, explaining “It is not the responsibility of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color to educate others on racial injustice.”
Badgerlink, Wisconsin’s online library, created the Badgerlink Advisory Group to emphasize “Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC)” resources. Badgerlink’s website states plainly, “Racism is systemic and structural.”
DPI created the Science Education Equity Committee, and released the statement “Science is cultural and situated within human understandings and norms of its time, which means it has historically been created and used as part of oppressive systems.”
The committee wanted science education to focus on equity and racial justice. The committee told schools to eliminate honors programs, because it gives some “students the message that they are or are not capable scientific thinkers.”
Considering how far DPI has been able to progress with existing resources, Evers didn’t need to add much in his budget proposal. All he did was added a total of $144,800 GPR and 1 FTE position to accommodate the new equity officer position.
“Equity and inclusion” is no flavor-of-the-month for Gov. Tony Evers. He has been promoting that agenda for most of the past decade. Under his leadership, DPI made it a top priority. Carolyn Stanford Taylor, although perceived as a caretaker state superintendent, made great strides advancing that agenda at DPI.
The rest of state government is only beginning to dip its toes into the equity and inclusion agenda. The furthest most have gotten is developing individual action plans. They will begin implementing those plans this year.
Despite this slow start, Evers has key personnel in place and has laid the groundwork for rapid expansion of his DEI initiatives. The only question now is, will the legislature, courts, or voters do anything to stop him?