Two quick education-related comments on Tuesday’s election outcomes in Wisconsin:
First, this was a banner outcome in the eyes of voucher and charter school leaders. Governor-elect Scott Walker is a long-time ally of those promoting the 20,000-plus-student private school voucher program in the city of Milwaukee, and he is a booster of charter schools both in Milwaukee and statewide. But just as important as Walker’s win was the thumpingly strong victories for Republicans in both the Assembly and State Senate, which will now come under sizable Republican majorities.
What will result?
Let’s assume it’s good-bye to the 22,500-student cap on the voucher enrollment in Milwaukee. Will Walker and the Legislature expand the voucher program beyond the city, perhaps, for openers, to Racine? Will they open the doors wider for charter schools, for national charter-school operators to come into Wisconsin, and for more public bodies to be given the power to authorize charter schools? (Currently, UW-Milwaukee, Milwaukee City Hall, and UW-Parkside are the only ones authorized to do that, other than school boards.) Perhaps most important, what will the Republicans do about the per-student payments to voucher and charter schools? School leaders now are chafing under the impact of receiving less than $6,500 per student for each voucher student and less than $8,000 for each charter student. Will this be one of the very few spots where the Republicans increase the state’s financial involvement? Pretty good chance the answer is yes to all of the above.
Second, among the really big losers Tuesday was the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC), the major state teachers’ union. Steve Walters, former Madison bureau chief for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and now a freelance columnist for the paper, made some important points in a piece that ran last Sunday. He showed how WEAC had directed almost all of its political money into supporting four incumbent Democratic senators who were seeking re-election. The strategy was clearly to write off the governorship and Assembly elections as lost causes, but fight to keep the Senate under a Democratic majority that could at least put the brakes on Republican education ideas. The strategy failed – three of the four Democrats (Lehman, Sullivan, and Kreitlow) lost and the fourth (Vinehout) is holding on to a slim victory that might be challenged. In addition, Russ Decker, who had been the Senate Democratic leader and a close WEAC ally, lost.
So now what will happen on issues that affect teachers, including pay, benefits, and tenure? What will be the approach for WEAC and union leaders from around the state, including Milwaukee’s MTEA? Will either Republicans or union people be willing to work together within the new reality? Or will they stick to being combative, the one empowered by big victory, the other aggrieved by big defeat? How teacher issues play out ahead will be very interesting and important.