A Fierce Fight for Governor, Where Education May Make the Difference

– Next, how education is
emerging as a flashpoint in the midterm elections. The issue is front and center in the Wisconsin governor’s race. The Republican incumbent, Scott Walker, is squaring off against
the state’s longtime superintendent of schools. Polls indicate the race
is too close to call. Special correspondent, Lisa Stark, of our partner, Education Week, went to Wisconsin for our weekly segment, Making The Grade. (drumming) – [Lisa] It’s a raucous welcome
on the first day of school at Maple Tree Elementary in Milwaukee. – [Man] Welcome back! (cheering) – [Lisa] Students cheered on
by city and district officials, and Tony Evers, Wisconsin’s school chief
and the Democratic candidate for governor. – Good morning, how are you? – [Lisa] 20 miles away
in the city of Waukesha, the current governor, Republican Scott Walker, is opening the school year
at La Casa de Esperanza, a charter school. (clapping) Walker, running for his third term, is getting an award from La Casa for expanding school choice. Education is a key issue in this race. 40% of voters say it’s
their first or second most important concern, edged out only by the economy. – This is our message of the year. I love my public school and I vote. – [Lisa] Heather DuBois Bourenane heads the Wisconsin Public Education Network, a nonpartisan group that
advocates for public schools. – It’s about making sure
that whomever gets elected is held accountable to the
highest possible standard of doing the right things
for kids in schools. – [Lisa] But how best to do
the right things for students is what’s at stake in this election. – You couldn’t pick a starker difference. – Two entirely different perspectives. – [Lisa] On one side, Governor Walker, who soon after taking office slashed school spending to
balance the state budget. And he faced tens of
thousands of protesters after weakening unions, pushing legislation known as Act 10, that did away with most bargaining rights for teachers and many
other public employees. The anger spilled over
into a recall attempt, which Walker survived. – Did you guys go to Mars this morning? – [Group] No. – [Lisa] Now, Walker is campaigning as the education governor, after boosting state money for schools by $636 million in his most recent budget. Why are you the education governor? – Again, because we’ve not only made the largest historic
investment in state history, which is important, but because of Act 10. Because of our reforms, those dollars are overwhelmingly
going in the classroom where they have a real
impact in student success. – [Lisa] On the other side, Evers, who’s been the state schools
chief for nine years. He argues he’s the real school champion, calling for a big bump
in education spending, an extra $1.4 billion. – Clearly, my lifelong journey has been all about public education
and being a teacher and an administrator. And, frankly, I fought for our schools instead of bringing em down. (cheering) – [Lisa] School funding has
been in political flashpoint in more than half a dozen states this year including West Virginia,
Arizona, Oklahoma, as teachers walked out
to demand higher salaries and more money for schools. This passion still playing
out in many of this year’s election races. In Wisconsin, outside money
is pouring into the race from conservative and liberal groups. Both candidates have
taken to the airwaves. – And I’ll never play
politics with our kids or their schools. – In Wisconsin, we’re
rethinking K-12 education. – [Lisa] One of the big
dividing lines, school choice. Walker has expanded charters,
and more significantly, voucher programs which
let lower-income parents use state education dollars to help pay private school tuition, something Evers doesn’t support, says Jim Bender with
School Choice Wisconsin. – I think Superintendent
Evers would be fine and dandy having all the education
reform models be gone and everything just turned
back to the same old, district school, that’s it, no innovation. – [Lisa] But education
professor Julie Underwood calls Walker the private school governor and says traditional public schools are not benefiting from his policies. – In 2011, we took the largest
budget cut we’ve ever had to public schools, and that’s never really been restored. We’ve got schools who are barely staying open. They’re worried about
meeting children’s needs. And, to quote an old movie, they’re mad as hell and they’re
not gonna take it anymore. – [Lisa] In a recent poll, 61% of voters said it was more important to increase spending on public schools than to cut property taxes. What does that say to you? – It says fund our schools. People are begging for it. People are passing referenda, voting to raise taxes on themselves to keep their schools in
business at record rates. – [Lisa] Governor Walker believes
the property tax measures are passing for a different reason. – And we’ve done such a good
job at cutting property taxes that it’s no longer a factor, as much as it once was. – [Lisa] Both candidates are
pointing fingers at each other over Wisconsin’s achievement gap. Perhaps the worst in the nation. Black students do not
do as well academically as white students. Evers says he’s proposed fixes. Walker hasn’t funded them. – We need to continue
to work on that issue going forward in this state, and we will. But, we have to have a
properly funded system in order to make that happen. We can’t take money away and expect people to have miracles happen
in their classrooms. – [Lisa] But Mark Morgan, who heads the state Republican Party, blames Evers’s leadership. – Evers has failed to act
multiple times in fixing either failing schools
or taking bad teachers out of the classrooms. – [Lisa] And that
controversial Act 10 law. Passed seven years ago, it’s still creating waves. Walker supporters say districts
free from union contracts can now reward top teachers. (singing) But opponents, who still gather at the
capitol every workday, argue teacher retirements
and turnover are up, leaving less experience in the classroom. ♪ Walker won’t be ♪ ♪ Governor someday ♪ ♪ Someday soon ♪ – [Lisa] The race has gotten contentious. Walker accuses Evers of
failing to fire a teacher who viewed pornography at school. – [Narrator] Tony Evers
should have revoked the teacher’s license. But he didn’t. – [Woman] Have you seen
these false attack ads? – [Lisa] Evers argues
state law at the time didn’t allow him to do so. – That’s why Tony Evers
worked with both parties to change the law. – [Lisa] Even as this battle heats up, educators are putting their efforts into getting students settled
for the new school year. – Catch it! Say your name. – Dion. – [Lisa] Trying to tune
out the political noise, says La Casa school leader, Maria Ayala. – We need to get away
from all of the politics and really focus in on the children. What are their needs? What can we do for them
and for their families? (children chattering) – [Lisa] A focus that will
continue long after Election Day. – There you go, you gotta work together. – [Lisa] For Education Week, and the PBS NewsHour, I’m Lisa Stark in Waukesha, Wisconsin. – It’s great having that
report from Wisconsin.

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