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The McAuliffe Effect? Evers signs Republican ed bill

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON — Perhaps feeling some Terry McAuliffe heat, Democrat Gov. Tony Evers on Friday signed a Republican-led school transparency bill.

It was, albeit, a quiet signing. No fanfare. That might have to do with the fact that only one Democrat — Sen. Brad Pfaff of La Crosse — voted for a measure that supporters say should have been widely bipartisan. Pfaff, a former Evers’ cabinet member, is reinventing himself as a “moderate” as he runs to represent a 3rd Congressional District that has turned from light blue to bold red.

The bill, authored by Sen. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma), aims to make it easier for the public to track school district expenditures and the funding they receive. Proponents say the bill creates an easy-to-access school expenditure portal that the Department of Public Instruction will maintain on its website.

“I am thrilled that this bill is being signed into law today. Over the last several years, I have worked with stakeholders throughout the education community to forge a consensus on making school district spending information accessible to the public,” Felzkowski said. She thanked her legislative partners, Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), and Reps. Gae Magnafici (R-Dresser) and Robert Wittke (R-Racine).

The bill also creates an advisory committee made up of individuals selected by the governor, the Assembly and Senate. The committee will make recommendations on categories DPI must include in the school expenditure portal.

“At its core, our bill is about transparency and access, and about every taxpayer, parent, teacher, reporter, and school board member who has at one point or another found our school funding data difficult to comprehend,” Felzkowski said.

While his fellow Democrats in the Legislature rejected the bill, the writing on the wall should be clear to Evers after last week’s gubernatorial election in Virginia: parents want to know what their children are learning. Democrat Terry McAuliffe, who had long been the frontrunner in the campaign, was beaten by Republican Glenn Youngkin. McAuliffe in a debate said, “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

Youngkin supporters told the press that education was the No. 1 reason they voted for the Republican, Fox News reported.

“I believe McAuliffe hurt himself a lot with saying parents had no place to talk about education,” one voter told MSNBC Tuesday. “That hurt him a lot, and that took away my support.”

Evers quickly recovered his left-leaning senses, however, vetoing another Republican-led education reform measure on Friday.

The bill would screen schoolchildren on their reading abilities earlier and more often, notify parents of concerns, and “create a clear direction to get kids back on track to succeed,” said Darling, chair of the Senate Education Committee and co-author of the bill. Supporters note the measure was modeled on successful laws in other states, including Mississippi which saw reading levels dramatically increase.

Evers, who has as governor and as DPI superintendent before that presided over woeful state reading proficiency levels, objected to more testing.

“I object to fundamentally overhauling Wisconsin literacy instruction and intervention without evidence that more statewide, mandatory testing is the best approach for our students, and without providing the funding needed for implementation,” he wrote in his veto message.

Evers insisted “we must work — and quickly — to address reading proficiency.”

“As Superintendent and now Governor, it’s unfortunate, he’s all talk and no action,” Darling said. She noted 64 percent of Wisconsin fourth-graders are not proficient in reading. The state ranks dead-last in reading achievement among black students. Hispanic students dropped from 1st in the nation to 28th while white students fell from 6th to 27th, this despite historic funding levels for public schools.

CJ Szafir, president of the Institute for Reforming Government, said Evers and the education establishment are “out of touch with parents and students.”

“By vetoing this important bill, the status quo lives on with roughly two out of three fourth-graders not proficient in reading. Unfortunately, these students will continue to struggle, and our workforce in Wisconsin will be worse off without strong literacy intervention,” he said

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