Journalist Nora de la Cour describes the dire situation in Wisconsin, where incumbent Governor Tony Evers is in a close race with an election denier/school privatizer, Tim Michels. There are many other states where education is on the ballot. Wisconsin was once known for its great public schools and public universities. Former Governor Scott Walker declared war on both. Twenty-five years ago, the far-right Bradley Foundation funded the voucher movement in Milwaukee, which has spread to other parts of the state and to other states. The Trumpist base of the Republican Party has declared war on public schools, based on lies and fantasies spun by rightwing think tanks.

She begins:

New research finds that market-style education reforms, like those pioneered in Wisconsin decades ago, have devastating consequences for students. This election, Wisconsin and the rest of the nation must choose whether to plow ahead or reverse course.

Wisconsin’s Democratic governor Tony Evers is neck and neck with his challenger, Trump-endorsed Tim Michels, whose campaign has lauded abortion bans, election denialism, and a beefed up carceralpolicestate. Robert Asen, who studies political discourse at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, told Jacobin that because education has gotten relatively less airtime, it is “a bit of a stealth issue analogous to [labor law in] Scott Walker’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign,” which didn’t prepare voters for Walker’s vicious attacks on workers. But make no mistake: this election will determine the existential future of K-12 schooling in the state.

Following the now-familiar Chris Rufo playbook, Michels plans to sign a restrictive “parents’ rights” bill and move up the timeline on a universal school choice plan that would destroy what’s left of Wisconsin’s once-great public schools. Formerly the state’s superintendent of public instruction, Evers has pledged to increase school funding and prioritize the public system. In reality, though, even if Evers prevails he’ll at best continue to be “the man of a thousand vetoes,” given that Republican opposition will prevent him from pursuing his agenda. So as Marquette University senior fellow and veteran education reporter Alan Borsuk put it when speaking to Jacobin, this governor’s race amounts to a choice between treading water and veering hard right.

In many ways, Wisconsin blazed a trail for the rest of the country with market-style reforms that increase competition by weakening teachers’ unions and privatizing schools. Decades later, researchers have mapped the devastating impact of these reforms on Wisconsin students. So, as voters across the United States face grave education questions up and down the ballot, it makes sense to look back at what’s happened in the Badger State.

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