Strangling public-sector unions in Wisconsin has shrunk teachers’ pay and benefits.
And citizens of the state appear to be tired of the cuts to schools too. Nearly three out of every five respondents in a June Marquette University poll of Wisconsin residents said that, if given the choice, they would raise taxes on themselves rather than cut funding to public education.
Higher education has not fared much better under Walker. There was the no-confidence vote in the University of Wisconsin system’s board of regents as well as their president. The proposal to eliminate 13 majors at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Then there was Walker’s 2015 proposal to cut $300 million from the the UW-System; the legislature ultimately voted to cut $250 million and remove some tenure protections. But he did an about-face in 2017, proposing an additional $100 million for the system, which was approved. “There are no clear education goals, and because of that context of not really having a north star, this is how we fumble through education policy in Wisconsin,” Nick Hillman, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, told me. (Walker’s office did not return a request for comment on his education policy goals if reelected.)
That’s what Evers wants to change. “We have to have a positive vision for the future,” Evers told me. “And my positive vision is around education.”
Heather DuBois Bourenane, the executive director of the Wisconsin Public Education Network, a non-partisan advocacy group for the state’s public schools, told me she thinks that educators and voters alike are seeing Evers' education background as a welcome change. “People view [Evers’] presence in the race with this kind of comforting feeling of relief that there is a grown-up in the room who gets what's going on with our schools and who will do what it takes to protect them,” she says.
Still, Evers’ rise may be attributable just as much to a name recognition advantage he has over other Democratic candidates as it is to his education platform. Evers has already won statewide office three times, after all. But some say candidates like Evers—those who do not energize the progressive base—have run and lost in the past. Mahlon Mitchell, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, for instance, called Evers a “retread” of candidates the Democratic party has run time and again, arguing that though he is a good person, he does not excite voters. And he isn’t sold on the fact that education is a winning issue. “There’s no doubt that we’ve got to shore up our public education, but there are so many issues hurting our state besides education,” he told Buzzfeed News.
According to a recent Marquette poll, more than a third of voters are still undecided about which primary candidate to vote for. However, for public education advocates in the state, whatever is bolstering Evers’ candidacy, it’s a good thing.