State superintendent renews call to boost school funding, highlights challenges in education

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- State Superintendent Jill Underly delivered her second State of Education Address taking aim at the funding system for schools, and challenged GOP lawmakers to prioritize the state's more than $5 billion estimated revenue surplus.

Underly's speech comes after she joined Governor Tony Evers earlier this month to unveil their 2023-2025 education budget proposal which includes a roughly $2 billion boost to K-12 schools. The proposal, which includes investments in literacy programs, mental health services, and per-pupil aid, faces an uphill battle among Republicans. GOP leaders are reluctant to spend the surplus until next year, after the election.

During her State of Education Address, Underly highlighted the ongoing challenges facing schools -- from achievement gaps to combating learning loss caused by the pandemic. Her overall message was targeted at the state Legislature, which is controlled by Republicans, criticizing them for not investing more money in schools.

"Schools are being asked to do more and more – like take care of the mental health needs of our kids – but with less and less support," Underly said. "Schools cannot solve everything – and we shouldn’t expect them to, especially when we’re not given increased financial support from this Legislature."

With estimates showing the state will end the fiscal year with more than $5 billion in state coffers, Underly said there's no excuse for not investing more in education.

She also took aim at GOP bills that seek to ban the teaching of systemic racism and implicit bias, often referred to as critical race theory. It's a framework college students at the graduate level sometimes discuss, but it's been playing a much larger role in the 2022 election cycle.

"The only way to teach the complete story of the United States is to include the history of racism," said Underly. "Grappling with difficult concepts, including discrimination, is essential, it is culturally relevant, and it is accurate teaching. Saying otherwise is problematic – and racist."

Education has been a key issue in the governor's race as Republican Tim Michels seeks to unseat Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who's vying for a second term. If elected, Michels wants to ban CRT and vowed to sign a parental bill of rights, which seeks to give parents more control over what's taught in the classroom.

"Literacy is the foundation of all learning, but Tony Evers and Jill Underly are more focused on imposing woke politics in the classroom," Michels wrote on Twitter. "Evers and Underly believe pronouns save lives. I believe that literacy and quality education saves lives."

Michels has also advocated for universal school choice to allow any student to apply for a school voucher to attend a private school. It's a costly concept Michels has yet to explain how he would pay for.

Gov. Evers has vetoed Republican bills to expand school choice, ban CRT, and proposals to provide parents more choice in their child's education.

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