With Long Record on Unions and Choice, Gov. Walker Declares Presidential Bid

By Andrew Ujifusa — July 13, 2015 3 min read
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Claiming that he had “beat the special interests” and “improved education” during his five years in office, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced today that he will officially seek the Republican nomination for president in the 2016 race.

Walker publicized his run on Twitter July 13, but had a formal launch event planned for later in the day in Wisconsin.

As far as education is concerned, Walker is perhaps most prominent for his successful push to strip collective bargaining rights for teachers and other public employees in 2011. The governor said that the changes would be good for the long-term fiscal health of the state, and would help to offset $834 million reductions in state aid to K-12 over the biennial 2011-13 state budget. The Wisconsin Education Association Council led sustained and vigorous protests against what ultimately became Act 10, and Democratic lawmakers even briefly left the state and delayed the final vote.

UPDATE: In his speech at his launch event, one of the very first things Walker highlighted about his tenure was his triumph over oganized labor through Act 10: “We took on the unions and we won.” He went on to point out the state’s decision to ditch policies tying seniority and tenure to hiring and firing decisions. He subsequently claimed that Wisconsin students under his tenure have the second-best ACT scores in the nation—for a fact-check about the integrity of that claim, click here.

Ultimately, the courts in Wisconsin upheld Act 10. And Walker survived a 2012 recall election, driven in large part by WEAC, against Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. In his 2016 announcement video released July 13, Walker refers to his success over the unions in that recall election by showing a few shots of protestors against him in the state capitol:

Big Claims, Unclear Impact

My colleague Alyson Klein wrote last month in detail about recent claims Walker made in a Des Moines Register op-ed about his record on education. The governor argued that his state’s recent success regarding 3rd grade reading performance and graduation rates were directly attributable to his policies, but as Alyson shows, Wisconsin’s numbers largely track with nationwide trends, and it’s hard to discern whether the policies he highlighted have made a significant difference—see the chart on graduation rates below:

Walker has consistently pushed the expansion of school choice programs in Wisconsin, and has thrown significant weight behind making vouchers more broadly available to students in the state. He approved a change to the voucher program in 2013 that made vouchers available statewide (subject to enrollment caps) beyond Milwaukee and Racine.

UPDATE: In his July 13 speech, Walker stressed, as he did elsewhere, his efforts to place more power with parents and less with government bureaucracy: “We reformed public education, and we provided more quality choices, quality choices for families.”

And then there’s Walker’s relationship with the Common Core State Standards. He gave the standards tacit backing during his first few years in office, but couldn’t be called a full-throated supporter. Last year, he came out against the common core, but then waffled as to what extent he truly wanted the state not to use the standards. He eventually settled on a position that no district in Wisconsin should be forced to use the standards—however, districts already had the option to create or select their own content standards before Walker made that position public.

UPDATE: Walker didn’t present the whole history of his relationship with the common core in any great detail in his July 13 speech. Instead, he argued the standards were undermining local control over public schools: “Those standards should be set at the local level. No common core, no nationwide school board.” That last phrase about a “nationwide school board” might have been inspired by U.S. GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee.

In addition, Walker signed an abstinence-only sex-education bill in 2012 that requires schools to teach that abstinence is the only reliable way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. The bill also required sex-education classes to promote marriage, and to include bullying as a possible topic in curriculum.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.