Deb Kerr, Betsy DeVos’s pick for Wisconsin superintendent race, loses

Jill Underly, the Democratic Party-backed superintendent of the Pecatonica School District, defeated Deb Kerr, the Betsy DeVos-backed former superintendent of Brown Deer Schools, on Tuesday to become the state’s top education officer.

Underly’s campaign spent seven times as much as Kerr’s campaign. Outside of groups spent nearly four times as much on ads for Underly as it did for Kerr. The American Federation for Children, a lobby group founded by the family of former President Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education, DeVos, has put money on Kerr’s side.

The level of spending – over $ 1 million on ads alone – was unprecedented for a superintendent race in Wisconsin.

Former Minister of Education Betsy DeVos on October 15, 2020 in Phoenix.

Although the position is technically impartial, candidates argued over whether taxpayers’ money should go to independent charter schools and coupons for students to attend private schools in “School Choice” programs. Opposite extensions of these programs; Kerr supports.

Underly has been advocated by teacher unions, which traditionally speak out against vouchers for reducing funding for public schools. Their campaign focused on plans to expand early childhood education programs and diversify the educational workforce, including by facilitating the path for teacher licensing and student loans.

Jill Underly

“Wisconsin’s children and public schools face great challenges as we work to get back to normal, catch up with each student, and ensure their sanity and well-being in the wake of this pandemic and the tremendous trauma and disorder it is causing for all of us support.” “Underly said.

“Overcoming these hurdles will not be easy, but I know that if we work together we can make it and do what is right for our children,” she said.

Kerr was largely backed by Conservatives like DeVos, but also had some recommendations from Democrats: Senator Lena Taylor and former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who helped expand charter schools.

As of 9:30 p.m., Underly had 372,228 votes while Kerr had 281,469. About 66% of the counties reported results, with postal votes still to be counted.

Underly declared victory and Kerr called her late that evening to admit.

Deb Kerr, Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction nominee, speaks during a press conference in Walker Square Park on South 9th Street in Milwaukee on Wednesday, March 10, 2021.  Kerr announced a proposal to decentralize the State Department of Public Instruction.

“She fought hard and now I am hoping for her success. Your success as our head of state will mean success for our children, ”said Kerr. “Our children must always come first.”

In addition to mounting resentments as election day approached, Wisconsin political parties filed Ethical complaints against each of the candidates.

The Wisconsin Republican Party said Underly was not allowed to use her Pecatonica district email address to ask other superintendents for their personal contact information, which she later used discussion about their choice of options.

Days later, a complaint from the Wisconsin Democratic Party said Kerr was not allowed to use her Brown Deer district email address Discuss business for their new company Lead Greatly LLC.

The candidates also had major disagreements about the future of the position of the head of state and the Ministry of Public Education. Kerr suggested Most of the Madison Agency’s more than 400 employees move or recruit to offices across the state. Criticized the plan as disruptive and costly.

Kerr also said during a forum that she was interested in converting the post of superintendent to a governor-appointed cabinet position rather than being elected. A spokeswoman for her campaign later went back and said her response came from frustration with the amount of partisan funding in the race.

Underly will begin work in July and will take over from Carolyn Stanford Taylor, who was named governor by Tony Evers when he became governor. Evers held the post for nearly a decade.

Significant changes to voucher programs would require legislative action. The new superintendent will draft budget proposals for education funding and can issue guidelines on a number of topics including pandemic safety, virtual learning, curriculum and teacher licensing.

Follow Rory Linnane on Twitter at @ RoryLinnane.


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