7 Investigates profiles Gov. Walker on education

(WSAW) — While several topics have been influential throughout the 2018 campaign season, education has continued to be a hot topic in the race for Wisconsin governor.

Republican incumbent Scott Walker and democrat Tony Evers have largely served in their governor and state superintendent positions alongside each other, with both of them saying they are the “education governor.”

Given their service times, you could say Gov. Walker and Superintendent Evers are both to blame or to credit for the failure or success of the state of Wisconsin education. It all depends on how you look at it, but the candidates’ perspectives seem to tell different stories as well.

“Great schools, great teachers, great communities, great students,” Gov. Walker told 7 Investigates in a one-on-one interview last week.

Several analytical organizations like the McKinsey & Company Data, WalletHub, and Forbes have ranked Wisconsin among the top 20 states or higher for education. What these companies are tracking differ slightly, but often include graduation rates and test scores, which are among the highest in the nation.

Gov. Walker said several things contribute to that success.

“We not only put more money in, but we targeted so that it helped with early college credit,” he said. “It helped with things like dual enrollment, which give students a head start in the technical college degree. It helped the technical education, youth apprenticeships. We want to continue to build off of that.”

The bottom line, he said he invested in education and both he and Evers have said they want to fund two-thirds of public schools’ expenses. On top of that he said he approved extra spending on rural districts, to receive an extra $400 per district.

“We want to make sure we continue to make historic investments in the schools,” he urged. “In the last budget we did that. Actually, Tony Evers called it a pro-kid budget.”

Let us dig into that historic investment claim. Gov. Walker has said he approved a $636 million increase to K-12 education spending in the last budget, bringing the total to about $11.5 billion over two years.

“Schools now have more actual dollars on a statewide basis than they ever had in the history of the state,” he stated.

What he means by “actual dollars” is the roughly $5.6 billion and $5.9 billion for the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years is the highest amount ever invested in Wisconsin education. However, when calculated for inflation, which PolitiFact Wisconsin did before that budget ultimately passed, spending is actually lower than in 2003. You can see another breakdown of spending in a recent PolitiFact check against a claim Tony Evers made.

Even so, education spending has gone up since his historic cuts to education in his first year as governor in 2011. Gov. Walker responded to this information Tuesday in Green Bay by saying it is still a historic investment.

“That’s an extra $200 every year for every student in every school. On top of that, our reforms saved schools more than $3 billion, so that more than makes up for the difference in inflation,” he added, “on top of that, Tony Evers wants to undo those reforms.”

When he says reforms, he explained he is largely talking about Act 10, which took away collective bargaining rights and significantly altered benefits of public employees, who have criticized the law. Tony Evers has also said he wants to repeal that law.

“Our schools now can hire and staff based on merit, just like they do at places like this,” Walker said speaking to reporters at Renco Machine Company in Green Bay Tuesday. “They can pay based on performance. That means we can put the best and the brightest in our classrooms and keep them there.”

Studies looking into what kind of spending improves student outcomes, including one by a Rutgers professor, found among other spending, increasing teacher compensation raises student achievement. Another study done by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, which calls itself a nonpartisan policy institute made up of progressive members, found since Act 10’s implementation in 2011, teacher compensation has gone down and turnover rates have increased.

Gov. Walker also laid out some goals he has for the next four years should he be reelected. He said he wants “to expand youth apprenticeships into seventh and eighth grade as well as expand youth opportunities. More ways to help our students, every student graduates, and that every graduate has a game plan for success.”

He said he wants to keep graduates in the state by offering and incentive of $5,000 with a two-year or more degree from a Wisconsin college who decide to stay in the state for the next five years. On that same theme, he said he wants to make college more affordable by continuing the University of Wisconsin tuition freeze for the next four years, bringing the freeze length to 10 years.

One thing Wisconsin ranks low in compared to other states is racial disparity. Wisconsin has one of the highest education achievement gaps when looking at graduation rates, test scores, and other factors of black students compared to white students.

Walker said when Evers ran in 2009, closing that gap was one of his priorities. He said what he is going to do to close that gap echoes efforts mentioned earlier: get kids engaged in workforce experience early on.

“We believe the sooner you engage students, so after they take their academic and career plans that we’ve paid for at the state level now at every school district in the state, that if we can get them into work experiences in seventh and eighth grade, we believe that will help encourage every student to graduate,” he explained.

He said one of the biggest challenges in places like Milwaukee is “that students check out in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. By the time they’re in high school, they’re gone, they’ve already dropped out and that makes for a real problem in terms of those rates.”

7 Investigates also looked into Evers’ stance and plans for Wisconsin education. 7 Investigates was unable to coordinate an interview on the topic with Evers’ campaign, but will compile what he has said on the campaign trail through previous interviews and debates, and by reviewing in his education record Thursday on NewsChannel 7 at 10.