Keep state superintendent an elected office


THE governor’s office, both houses of the Legislature and (in effect) the state Supreme Court, but one Republican isn’t satisfied.

State Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-West Allis, is circulating for co-sponsorship a constitutional amendment to change how the superintendent of public instruction is selected.

Presently, the head of the Department of Public Instruction is elected by voters for a four-year term. Tony Evers has held the position since 2009.

“Wisconsin is one of only 12 states in the country that elects its state superintendent of public schools rather than have that person appointed by the governor or state school board,’’ Sanfelippo said. “Nearly every other state agency in Wisconsin is led by an appointed administrator, so it makes sense to treat DPI the same so we can have a more cohesive state government.’’

Sanfelippo, The Capital Times reported, said the state’s students should not be “held hostage’’ for four years based on the winner of a “popularity contest.’’

Based on Mr. Sanfelippo’s phrasing, it could be suggested that the residents of his Assembly district are being held hostage by his winning a popularity contest. But that is what elections are.

Wisconsin’s superintendent office is nonpartisan, but elections have traditionally featured a candidate supported by Democrats and public school officials and another backed by Republicans and supporters of private-school vouchers, charters and other public school alternatives.

Sanfelippo’s proposal comes after a string of contentious state budgeting cycles during which Republican lawmakers and Evers have clashed - over how public schools should be funded, measured and held accountable for students’ academic achievement.

We presume that Sanfelippo’s push is connected to Evers’ insistence on running the Department of Public Instruction the way he thinks best, and to the one area where Evers, or any other state superintendent for that matter, could exercise veto-proof authority: administrative rules. In 2011, the Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker passed a law that allowed the governor to veto administrative rules developed by the state superintendent. A state appeals court ruled that provision unconstitutional in February.

We’re reminded of the immediate aftermath of President Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, when there was a move in some Republicanmajority legislatures to change those states’ Electoral College delegations to the congressional district method rather than winner-take-all, the idea being that Obama had been the benefi ciary of 48 of the 50 states being winner-take-all. We editorialized then that the Electoral College suited Republicans just fi ne when Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were cruising to overwhelming election-day victories, that the problem in other presidential elections was with the Republican candidate and his campaign, not with the Electoral College.

Furthermore, events in recent years in Wisconsin make a change to appointed state superintendents seem unnecessary. Walker and Sanfelippo’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature have demonstrated considerable ability to effect change in Wisconsin public education through Act 10’s substantial weakening of teachers’ unions; expansion of the voucher program to enable students to attend private schools; and, specifically in Racine County, the imposition of a change to districts for Racine Unified School Board seats instead of at-large elections.

Evers opposed Act 10 and voucher expansion but had no power to stop either from happening. Reverse the roles - a Republicanleaning state superintendent and Democrats in control of the governor’s office and Legislature - and the outcome on legislation the Democrats wanted would surely have been the same.

Evers holds office because the people of Wisconsin put him there in 2009 and re-elected him in 2013. When the people of Wisconsin decide they want a change in state education policy, they will use the power of the ballot box to effect that change. — The Journal Times of Racine, Sept. 20

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