NewsOn the Campaign Trail

Scott Walker Is In: 9 Things to Know About His Education Record

By Carolyn Phenicie | July 13, 2015

Well before Friday's accidental tweet, it was common knowledge that Gov. Scott Walker was prepping to announce his candidacy for the GOP presidential nomination on Monday. In the buildup, the roster of Republican leaders who have tossed their hats into the ring has skyrocketed to 14 (Check out The Seventy Four's  presidential baseball cards, where we break down their biographies and records on education policy).
Now lucky number 15, Walker is perhaps best known for his successful 2011 campaign to rein in the bargaining rights of public employees – including teachers – in his state. Equally noteworthy for education insiders, though, has been Walker’s moves to expand the use of vouchers across Wisconsin, cut K-12 education funding and overhaul tenure regulations for professors in the state’s higher education system.
Looking to brush up on Walker’s educational background and record? Start with this extensive 2014 National Journal profile, which details his childhood, rise in Wisconsin politics and unprecedented success in going head-to-head with the state’s unions and their political allies. Tim Alberta links Walker’s state-level efforts to his rising national profile:
If Scott Walker intends to be president…you can bet that he already has a plan. It is not hard to imagine what it looks like: In the primary, surrounded by the country’s most talented and ambitious Republican officeholders, Walker sits back and lets Christie, Rubio, Paul, Cruz, and the rest tear each other apart. While they attempt to broaden their appeal beyond a specific segment of the GOP base, Walker calmly makes the case that he has already united a fractured Republican Party around core issues everyone in the GOP agrees on. (National Journal)
Eight other articles that capture Scott Walker’s positions on today's top education issues and debates:
2. Vouchers: A Moral Imperative. Walker gave a speech to the American Federation for Children in May in which he called vouchers a “moral imperative,” the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. During his time in office, he has lifted income restrictions on a program in Milwaukee and eliminated the cap on the number of students who can participate and created another smaller program in Milwaukee’s suburbs. He also created a statewide program for low-income families, for which he’d like to end an existing 1,000 student per-year cap. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)
3. Common Core? Let the School Districts Decide. The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet column details Walker’s complicated history with the Common Core: his first budget as governor called for a Core-aligned test and he chaired a task force on reading that expressed support for the standards. By 2014 he was calling for an all-out repeal of the standards, but this year said just that districts shouldn’t have to use the standards if they don’t want to. In response, a group of Tea Party activists, plus libertarians and even some liberals, issued an open letter calling on Walker to define his position. (The Washington Post)
4. Walker’s War on Tenure. The New York Times details Walker’s proposal to essentially end the concept of tenure for college faculty. Instead, the Wisconsin Board of Regents would create a policy to dismiss tenured faculty for reasons other than just cause or financial emergency:
Under the proposal, the board’s 18 members — 16 of whom are appointed by the governor subject to the confirmation of the State Senate — would be permitted to set a standard by which they could fire a tenured faculty member “when such an action is deemed necessary due to a budget or program decision requiring program discontinuance, curtailment, modification or redirection,” not only in the case of just cause or a financial emergency, as permitted previously. Critics deemed it tenure with no actual promise of tenure. (The New York Times)
Walker also proposed creating a quasi-governmental organization to oversee the state’s colleges and universities and looked to cut the budget by $300 million. Lawmakers rejected the structural change and approved a more limited cut.
5. Fact-Checking Wisconsin’s Test Score Growth. PolitiFact, a fact-checking project from the Tampa Bay Times, examined the veracity of Walker’s claim that after the 2011 labor law changes, ACT scores in Wisconsin rose to be second in the nation. Citing the state’s long-stable place in ACT rankings and the difficulty in separating out one factor in boosting scores, they rated that assertion “mostly false.” (Politifact.com)
6. Winning Over the Home-Schoolers. The Daily Beast covered Walker’s mixed relationship with Wisconsin’s homeschooling community, a key constituency in the GOP primaries. Those aligned with Wisconsin’s Christian homeschooling movement love the governor, while leaders of the Wisconsin Parents Association say he hasn’t done enough to back out of the Common Core. (The Daily Beast)
7. Trimming K-12 Budgets, While Expanding Voucher Programs. Walker’s 2015-16 budget proposal included significant cuts for public K-12 education. He first proposed eliminating $127 million in special payments scheduled for this year, designed to ease school budgets limited by caps on property taxes. Walker also proposed holding total funding flat, while allocating some funds to pay for an expanded voucher program, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports. Legislators didn’t agree to all of his proposals, and the budget isn’t yet finalized, but a July 1 estimate from the Department of Public Instruction found 55 percent of the districts in the state would lose money.
8. Dropping Out of College a Few Credits Short. The Washington Post dives into Walker’s college years at Marquette University – including an unsuccessful campaign for student government – and surprise decision to drop out a few credits shy of a degree. Instead he took a full-time job with the American Red Cross and began his political career. If elected in 2016, Walker would be the first president without a college diploma since Harry Truman. (The Washington Post)
9. “I Believe That Every Child Deserves Access to a Great Education.” Walker wrote an op-ed for Iowa’s largest newspaper, The Des Moines Register, just last month. He describes the 2011 teacher protection changes as well as his support for charter schools and vouchers, and opposition to the Common Core. He also underscores yet again his commitment to empowering parents to make the educational choices they feel best for their child:
Nationwide, we want high standards but we want them set by parents, educators and school board members at the local level. That is why I oppose Common Core. Money spent at the local and state level is more efficient, more effective and more accountable. That is why I support moving money out of Washington and sending it to states and schools…As a father, an uncle and a governor, I believe that every child deserves access to a great education — be it at a traditional public, charter, choice, private, virtual or homeschool environment. We need leaders who value quality choices and who trust parents to put the interests of their children first. (The Des Moines Register)
Scott Walker photo by Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons
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