WisPolitics: Evers, Fernandez question each other in We The People debate
By Greg Bump
Tony Evers questioned opponent Rose Fernandez’s qualifications for the state’s top education spot Friday night, while Fernandez countered by trying to portray him as a crony of Wisconsin’s largest teacher’s union.
The two, vying for the post of superintendent of Public Instruction, laid out competing visions in a We The People debate.
Evers, the deputy superintendent at DPI, touted his 34 years of experience in education while contrasting his resume with the credentials of Fernandez, who is a nurse by trade and has never worked in a public school.
Fernandez, a virtual school advocate, countered by continually trying to lay problems with the state’s educational system at the feet of Evers, who has held the No. 2 post at the agency for eight years.
Given the opportunity to question each other, Evers pointed out Fernandez represented virtual schools and has zero experience in the administration of public schools. He asked how parents with children in public schools can trust her to invest in their education rather than funneling money toward special interests.
“My own special interest is the boys and girls growing up in the state of Wisconsin,” Fernandez shot back.
Fernandez then stressed Evers’ endorsement by the Wisconsin Education Association Council and the “hundreds of thousands of dollars” the union has spent to support his campaign. She asked him to list three reforms he has supported that WEAC opposed.
Evers answered that the union was unhappy with a settlement DPI reached on allowing virtual schools — in which districts allow students to take courses on-line — to continue. He also said he has been a strong advocate of charter schools — which operate without some of the regulations of other public schools — something the union has opposed.
“I started charter schools. I know what charter schools are about,” Evers said. “I don’t need a lecture about charter schools.”
Evers also stressed his support from school boards, child advocates, parents and others.
“That’s why you have to have a broad coalition,” Evers said. “This isn’t about this overwhelming group of people driving policy at the state level. That just isn’t fact.”
Fernandez ripped DPI for not doing enough to help the struggling Milwaukee Public School system address issues like dropout rates and the achievement gap for minority students.
Evers countered that he has worked on the issue with educators in Milwaukee, but there are also socioeconomic factors that are hampering achievement.
“Laying this issue on my lap is irrational,” Evers said.
Fernandez also brought up a piece of Evers’ campaign lit that referred to voucher schools in Milwaukee as “a privatization scheme.”
“Some of the schools have been scheming, and those schools we have drummed out of the program,” Evers replied.
Evers warned that Fernandez would run DPI through the prism of the “special interest” of choice schools.
Both candidates agreed that a merit pay system for educators could have benefit, but they disagreed on the details. Fernandez indicated that she would base her merit pay system more on classroom outcomes, while Evers stressed that rewards for training were equally important.
They differed more prominently on the qualified economic offer, which Gov. Jim Doyle has proposed eliminating in his 2009-11 budget plan. Fernandez wants to retain it, saying that without the control on teacher compensation, property taxes could rise sharply.
“Children may become the enemy of the taxpayer,” she said.
Evers said he has bargained on both sides of the table, and he opposes the QEO because it hurts the state’s ability to stay competitive in teacher pay.
Evers embraced the coming federal stimulus cash, which will pump $800 million into state schools as “a historic event” that acknowledges “educators are the lever that can turn our economy around.” He said he would appoint a trustee to oversee the allocation of the funds in Milwaukee schools to ensure the money is getting to the classrooms.
In contrast, Fernandez said she looked upon the federal stimulus with caution in that it is one-time funding that won’t be there in the future
And while Evers touted the state’s ACT and SAT scores as being among the highest in the nation, Fernandez said those tests are only administered to college-bound students and aren’t indicative of the academic struggles in districts like Milwaukee.
We the People/Wisconsin is a multi-media that includes the Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin Public Television, Wisconsin Public Radio, WISC-TV, WisPolitics.com and Wood Communications Group.