Empower Wisconsin | June 5, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — As Wisconsin’s K-12 students near the end of their locked-down, lost semester, Gov. Tony Evers and the state Department of Public Instruction have yet to come up with a plan for next fall.
“Parents can’t wait until August to find out what’s going to happen,” said state Sen. Alberta Darling. “The governor has taken no leadership on this issue and that’s very disappointing because he used to be DPI superintendent.”
The River Hills Republican is vice chairwoman of the Senate’s Education Committee. She said she’s heard nothing from Evers, his administration, or DPI about what public education will look like in the 2020-21 academic year.
Will the state move to reopen schools or will it be the same kind of loose, virtual-learning environment that Darling and others say has left so many students behind?
Health experts warn that, without a vaccine, a second wave of COVID-19 cases could hit peak levels in the fall or winter like we saw in April. If that’s the case, Darling said, Wisconsin will need a better statewide plan for remote learning.
“Performance of our kids has been uneven all over the state. We’ll find the achievement gap is going to grow because there wasn’t a plan in place for online learning,” Darling said
State Rep. Janel Brandtjen (R-Menomonee Falls), said her office has fielded a lot of calls from parents about what schools are going to do in the fall. She said the concern is second only to the debacle that is the Department of Workforce Development’s Unemployment Insurance claims system.
“We are 2 1/2 months away from starting school and Gov. Evers has done nothing,” the lawmaker said. She said she’s heard from a number of single parents who say they can’t go through another extended period of “virtual schooling.”
“Getting kids back to school is the single-most important item for getting Wisconsin back to work,” she said.
Darling agrees. She plans to meet with school superintendents and education leaders to put together a plan on restarting Wisconsin’s schools safely, just like communities have done to reopen business. The senator, a former teacher, also wants to come up with a plan to prepare for a better system of virtual classrooms. She pointed to examples elsewhere in the country that have been successful in reaching students.
Darling said lawmakers and local education leaders will have to lead if Evers refuses to do so.
“This can’t continue. The people of Wisconsin elected Tony Evers governor. He has to step up to the plate and provide leadership, or he has to be called on that,” she said.