State Rep. Don Pridemore said in a Wisconsin Public Television debate today that competition would help improve public education in the state, adding that private school choice could eventually expand to all students in Wisconsin.
"That would be the ultimate free market solution to giving kids a choice," the Hartford Republican and state superintendent candidate said during the taping of "Here and Now."
Incumbent DPI Superintendent Tony Evers countered that while the rhetoric of competition evoked a positive image, nearly two decades and $1.5 billion of investment in the Milwaukee choice program hasn't shown "any discernible difference" in student performance.
"In public education, I just don't believe it is what it's cracked up to be," Evers said.
Pridemore said public education has effectively been run as a "monopoly" by teachers unions and was thus slow to change, saying, "All you have to do is go into a choice school and see the difference in how they teach.”
“Teachers are there not because they're looking for a big salary or benefit package," Pridemore said.
Evers took exception to that characterization, challenging those who shared that view to visit public classrooms.
"Kids are engaged in their learning; they own their learning," Evers said.
Pridemore responded that he applauds the "many great teachers in the public school system." He later said his measure of achievement in the voucher schools is to ask parents, saying the proposed expansion in the governor's budget wouldn't be on the table without demand from parents.
Evers questioned why proponents of the expansion favor grading public schools “based on a test,” but that with choice schools “we can't just use test scores; we have to use something in addition to that."
The two candidates also sparred over funding for K-12 education in the governor's budget.
Evers said the proposal had prioritized, in addition to voucher schools, transportation funding and an income tax cut that he said would average to about $7 per month for a family of four.
“I’m suggesting the priorities be changed,” Evers said, saying schools are still reeling from cuts to K-12 education in the previous budget.
Pridemore said the alternatives -- taking funding from other programs or raising taxes -- would not be palatable in the current Legislature, arguing that provisions in Act 10 saved districts more than the cut from the state.
Evers fired back that benefit concessions had already been agreed to by unions and that "Act 10 was about deunionizing public schools, and I understand Rep. Pridemore's happiness with that."
"I have nothing against unions, but unions do what unions do," Pridemore responded.
Pridemore also defended the additional funding for high-performing schools in the governor's budget, arguing that would also be "part of free market system."
Evers said state should only give additional resources to those districts to identify best practices, "not to reward them for being wealthy."