Election 2022: Gov. Evers vs. Tim Michels on education

On Nov. 8, Wisconsin voters will grade candidates for governor on education, and about 88% of Wisconsin voters surveyed in the recent Marquette University Law School Poll said they’re concerned about public schools.

At Wisconsin's oldest private school, Trinity Lutheran School of Freistadt, Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels and his running mate, State Sen. Roger Roth, took a tour. At Trinity, 45% of the students receive a school voucher. A key part of Michels' plan is to allow any student in the state to qualify for a voucher, which uses taxpayer money to pay for kids to go to private schools.

"We want to make sure that every young boy and girl in Wisconsin has choices to go to school and has the opportunity to go to school that their parent and their families think is best for them," said Michels.

Gov. Tony Evers

Democratic Governor Tony Evers vetoed a bill that would have opened up voucher eligibility to all Wisconsin students. The bill would have eliminated the voucher’s current maximum income limits.

"They are worried that it is taking money away from the public schools. They say it's a new entitlement program. What do you say to those critics of the school voucher program?" asked FOX6's Jason Calvi in an interview with Michels.

"I'd say if you're at a public school, you're an administrator there, and you think you're doing a great job, you have nothing to worry about," said Michels. "It's like any business, and I know education is not business, but we need to approach it with a results-oriented approach. But, if you're failing, like a lot of schools are in MPS, then you should be concerned. Why? Because parents are going to find other options, and they deserve to have the opportunity to find other options."

Evers has spent recent weeks welcoming kids back to public schools.

SIGN UP TODAY: Get daily headlines, breaking news emails from FOX6 News

Tim Michels

"When I came to office, we worked to fix a decade of underinvestment in our schools, and now, our K-12 schools rank eighth best in the nation after ranking 17th just five years ago," said Evers.

Those rankings come from U.S. News and World Report.

At the same time, Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction leaders said standardized tests from the 2020-2021 school year show English and math proficiency dropped since the pandemic.

The Democratic governor urges the Republican-controlled Legislature to spend $2 billion more on public schools, tapping into the state's estimated $5 billion budget surplus.

"Over the last decade, Republicans have cut more than $4 billion from education budgets that I’ve proposed as governor and state superintendent, and that’s a billion with a B, so we have a lot of work to do to fully fund our schools and do it the right way," said Evers.

Here’s some of how the plan would spend the $2 billion more in funds:

  • $10 million for programs geared toward reading and literacy
  • $5 million to help high school students learn how to make smart choices with money
  • $20 million for before and after school programming
  • $240 million for mental health services
  • $750 million to increase special education aid, by increasing the reimbursement rate from 30% to 45% in 2023-24, and then raise it to 60% in 2024-25
  • $800 million so property taxes won't need to go up while increasing revenue limits by $350 per pupil in 2023-24, and $650 in 2024-25

"For too long, the only metric was how much money was spent in the budget. I will invest in students, not systems. I will empower parents, not bureaucracies. We're going to focus on outcomes, invest in what works, and improve education for all students," Michels recently tweeted.

Republicans, in the debates over the current budget, pointed to the federal government's COVID-19 aid, more than $2.6 billion for Wisconsin schools, which is in addition to what the state is giving districts.

Republican legislative leaders like Assembly Speaker Robin Vos are already shooting down the governor's latest proposal for the next budget. They often spar over school issues. 

This year, the governor vetoed the GOP bill to break up Milwaukee Public Schools into four to eight smaller districts.

Gov. Tony Evers

"It sure looks to me like we’re putting our children into, essentially, pawns in a political game," said Evers in February 2022. "I believe that parents and teachers and school board members solve problems locally, and if we’re going to make that much more difficult, I do not support that and just, putting kids in the position of pawns in some sort of political chess game is distasteful for me."

"Would you have signed that bill to break up the Milwaukee Public Schools district?" asked FOX6's Jason Calvi.  

"Again, Jason, the devil's in the details," said Michels. "I'll have to take a look at it, but I'm certainly open to breaking up MPS because right now, it's not working as it's set up."

In FOX6's exclusive interview with Michels, FOX6's Jason Calvi asked him if he’d be open to local school districts returning to requiring masks.

"The best decisions are made at the lowest level, at the local level, so that's up to school boards to decide," said Michels. "There will not be a mandate coming from the state, coming from the governor's office, lieutenant governor's office, that you will wear a mask. People can decide for themselves what's best for their kids at their school. At Michels Corporation, we never shut down for a single day during COVID. We figured out how to get things done and keep people safe, and I have 100% confidence that schools and school boards and administrators can do the same thing."

FOX6 News also asked for a one-on-one interview with Governor Evers, but his campaign said he wasn't available before this story ran.

Both campaigns have pages dedicated to their education platforms: Evers and Michels.