Little Substance, Lots of Nonsense
Governor Evers put out a new education-focused ad last week called Flashy. Doubling down on the folksy schtick that’s his hallmark, this ad doesn’t provide much for substance. It’s remarkable almost entirely for being a nearly wholesale rewrite of his biography.
Let’s check the Flashy facts:
I was a teacher, principal, and superintendent.
Off to a good start. Evers was a teacher, principal and superintendent for 16 years, from 1976 to 1992. It has been 30 years since he worked in a school.
Never in a million years did I think I’d be in politics. But when I saw the last administration cutting millions from our schools, demoralizing teachers and dividing communities, I knew I had to step up.
Well, that was short lived. Evers began running for political office 25 years ago and is in his 7th statewide campaign.
Evers ran for statewide political office – Superintendent of Public Instruction – for the first time in 1997. That was 4 administrations and a quarter century ago when Tommy Thompson as governor had just put in place 2/3 funding. A statewide election campaign is no small undertaking. But Evers’ candidacy was an even more ambitious and politically aggressive move because he challenged fellow liberal, WEAC-backed incumbent DPI Superintendent John Benson.
During his rough and tumble 1997 campaign Evers directly criticized fellow Democrat Benson saying he had failed to call attention to the problems in our state’s education system, and that continual promotion of the good without sounding the alarm on the bad “wrecks our credibility.” Evers said students and districts were in trouble and that “being a cheerleader has its place, but that place is not the superintendent’s chair.”
(Yes, this is the same guy who – in another ad we recently fact checked – is cheerleading a US News ranking putting Wisconsin schools as 8th in the nation while only about a quarter of students statewide can do English or math at grade level.)
But those are not the only striking political moves Evers made in the 1997 race.
He campaigned on recommendations in the Fish Commission that suggested breaking up MPS. He accused Benson, who opposed charter schools, of trying to bury them in regulations. Evers supported statewide public school choice and said charter schools work, because they “provide local competition, innovation and research.” He called for clear, measurable standards in core academic areas to help districts improve. He said under Benson, “DPI has become a lackey for WEAC.” Those are not the words of a guy without political aspirations.
And when Benson claimed that the crisis in public education had been “manufactured” Evers asked – again, in 1997, a quarter century ago: “Is the 40% dropout rate in Milwaukee public schools a crisis or not? Is the fact that most colleges remediate our graduates a crisis?”
The 3.8% of MPS students who can do math at grade level and the 6.4% who can do English at grade level are a crisis today, and colleges are still remediating graduates from our “top 10 in the nation” schools. But while politically savvy Evers used school quality as a wedge issue when he wanted to defeat a fellow Democrat, today, he’s doing the same thing he accused Benson of: cheerleading while schools fail students.
Evers finished 5th in the 7-way 1997 primary with about 5% of the vote.
Political ambitions undeterred, Evers ran again for the same seat in 2001. He had become a more savvy politician, running opposed to vouchers, and garnering teacher union endorsements.
Again he lost, coming in third out of 7 candidates in the primary. At the time, he said he would not run for the Superintendent post again. He would do so 3 more times.
The eventual winner, Libby Burmaster, made Evers the top political appointee in the Department of Public Instruction by bringing him into the Deputy Superintendent spot as her top lieutenant. This was 3 administrations and 2 decades ago.
During his time as Deputy, Wisconsin was called out for setting “cut scores” low to game accountability measures to make proficiency scores appear higher. DPI had set reading passing levels for 8th graders at the 14th percentile, while states like South Carolina set theirs at 71%. Evers defended the cut scores saying that the 14th percentile was proficient.
And when Education Sector, a national non-profit, ranked states on which used technicalities to be overly cheery about student performance, Wisconsin topped the list. Evers, who had decried this very habit in his run against Benson, defended DPI saying everything they did “had been approved.”
At Burmaster’s retirement, he ran again for the statewide spot in 2009. This time he won, after running afoul of campaign finance law by requesting campaign funds and assistance over state email – while he was Deputy Superintendent.
This, finally winning, run was when Democrat Governor Doyle was “the administration.” Doyle cut education spending by $284 million, while Evers supported the budget from DPI, causing layoffs which certainly demoralized teachers who lost their jobs based on their seniority, not their quality. Doyle also abandoned the state’s commitment to 2/3 funding.
Evers was fine with all this in 2009. In fact, his press release on Doyle’s State of the State address was entitled, “Tony Evers Commends Governor Doyle on Commitment to Wisconsin Public Education: Governor’s State of the State Address Affirms the Importance of Education in Wisconsin.”
The 2011 Walker budget also reduced school funding, but unlike Doyle provided schools the flexibility to pay teachers based on merit, and gave them tools to better use and control their budgets.
Yet the Evers’ Flashy ad claims that 15 years and 3 statewide campaigns after he first entered the political arena, Walker’s budget cuts were what inspired Evers to get involved?
2013 and 2017 Campaigns
Evers won reelection in 2013, and again in 2017, 20 years after that first run for political office.
2018 Gubernatorial Campaign
When Evers ran for governor in 2018, he was already a 6-time statewide campaign veteran and a long term political appointee, with quite literally decades of political experience.
That’s a tough resume to portray as one of a political novice.
Quality education for our kids matters to me and it matters to the future of our state
Half False, Half True.
Quality education does matter to the state, and we are suffering from the failures of the education system to do right by kids and do right by taxpayers.
Just as when he defended DPI for setting low cut scores to boost the appearance of student proficiency, his Deputy at DPI oversaw a similar effort when he appointed her Superintendent that quietly rigged the school report card cut scores to help failing schools avoid an “F” grade. Evers vetoed a bill that would have required DPI to promulgate rules in order to change the report cards, saying it would “constrain DPIs ability to improve how it calculates school report card scores.”
If improvement means misrepresentation, he’s not wrong. That’s a far cry from his view when he was a political novice and he called out an opponent of his own party for wrecking DPIs credibility by refusing to sound alarm bells about the bad and constantly cheering the good. But a quarter century in the political arena can make some politicians lose their moral compass.
Quality education – where kids learn English, math, history and civics clearly is not a top priority for Evers. His priority is to pour more money into schools that divert funds that could be used to provide that quality education into CRT-based instruction, hyper-sexualized curriculum, and teacher trainings instructing them how to conceal information from parents about their child and the curriculum.
Campaign ad claims that he now cares about quality education in a campaign commercial are belied by the plain fact that the quality of our children’s education has nosedived under his 2 decades of leadership in the top spots at DPI and as governor. Test scores have plummeted under his watch.
He worked to keep kids out of school during the pandemic, something the Academy of Pediatrics argued against, and even Biden’s Education secretary admits caused kids to suffer.
He vetoed legislation that would have required a minimum amount of civics education, as well as a Parents Bill of Rights that would guarantee parents the right to be involved in their child’s education in meaningful ways. It’s hardly a secret that children whose parents are engaged are more successful, but his action shuts down vital parent engagement.
Folks I’m not the flashiest guy around but I’ll always do the right thing for Wisconsin.
It’s true he isn’t flashy, but he is phony, rewriting his resume and history to play the “awe shucks” role his team thinks is his sweet spot.
As to doing the right thing for Wisconsin…he’s been in statewide positions of great political authority and power for the better part of a quarter century and as an educator, he has presided over a wholesale failure of our education system. That’s not the right thing for anyone.