Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers called for providing more money for special education and freezing the expansion of the state’s voucher school program during a campaign stop Thursday in Eau Claire.
The state schools superintendent said the agency he heads, the Department of Public Instruction, would submit a budget request to the governor seeking $600 million more for special education to improve learning for students with disabilities and make up for funding that hasn’t increased in a decade.
After noting GOP Gov. Scott Walker typically has ignored or cut DPI’s budget proposals, Evers drew chuckles and cheers from an enthusiastic crowd of about 50 supporters at the Democratic campaign office in Eau Claire when he quipped, “The good news is instead of giving that budget to Scott Walker, I’m going to give it to me.”
Evers said more than 30,000 students are in the state’s voucher program after a dramatic expansion during Walker’s eight years in the governor’s office and called for freezing that number and demanding more transparency and accountability about taxpayer dollars being used to enable children to attend private schools. In response to an audience question, Evers said he eventually could support a statewide referendum on the issue.
Three weeks after his commanding win in an eight-way Democratic primary for the right to challenge Walker in the Nov. 6 general election, Evers said he has been pleased to see Democrats across the state appear to be energized and united behind his campaign.
Evers said supporters will have to work hard to counteract the “carpet bombing” of attack ads targeting him from Walker and conservative groups, including several criticizing Evers for declining to revoke the license of a Middleton teacher who was found to be looking at pornographic material at school in 2009. The teacher was fired after an investigation, but his teaching license was not revoked, and Evers has said he did not have the legal power at the time to revoke the license.
“That’s Scott Walker’s MO,” Evers said. “The most recent ad is absolutely disgusting, and he knows better than to do this, but this is again a career politician reaching for lies in his pocket to give to the people of Wisconsin.
“It’s a clear indication of his inability to be a positive force in the state of Wisconsin. ... It shows how desperate he is.”
Walker campaign spokesman Austin Altenburg defended the veracity of claims made in the ads, saying they came directly from public reports and investigative files submitted to Evers and showed his failure to protect students from predators.
“Tony Evers left children at a disadvantage when he allowed a teacher who spread pornography to remain in the classroom — and now, he’s resorted to making baseless claims and playing politics with our kids,” Altenburg said. “Scott Walker has shown his dedication to student success by investing historic actual dollars in education and increasing funding for our rural schools.”
For his part, Evers pledged a campaign focused on restoring positive values important for Wisconsin, including improving roads, education, health care coverage and economic development. He was joined for the campaign stop by Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Mandela Barnes and state treasurer candidate Sarah Godlewski.
After the event, local Democratic supporters said they were impressed with Evers’ forceful presentation, sense of humor and ability to rev up his audience despite a reputation for being a bit dry.
“We realized the Democratic candidate running for governor is not charisma-free,” said John Sandquist of Eau Claire.
Bob Matthews of Eau Claire said he liked the substance of Evers’ words as well as his style.
“I want somebody who is not afraid to appear knowledgeable,” Matthews said.
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