State superintendent calls GOP proposal to make position appointed an attack on democracy

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MADISON, Wisconsin — A Republican effort to make Wisconsin's state superintendent position a partisan appointment is an "attack at the heart of our democracy and our state's history," the current officeholder, Tony Evers, said Thursday.

Evers blasted the proposed constitutional amendment introduced earlier this week during his annual state of education speech in the Capitol. The proposal, introduced by Republican Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, of New Berlin, would give the governor the power to appoint the state superintendent, rather than leaving it up to voters every four years. State lawmakers would have the power to remove the person from office.

"Taking that vote away from the parents and other folks at the local level is a sad attack at the heart of our democracy and our state's history," Evers said to applause. "Haven't our strong public schools had enough upheaval and change?"

He said the Sanfelippo idea would "re-politicize a battle around public education."

In a statement Thursday, Sanfelippo countered that Evers glossed over the state's educational deficiencies, particularly in the Milwaukee and Madison school districts. He said he plans to introduce bills this fall that would decentralize power by shrinking the size of the state Department of Public Instruction and giving that money directly to local schools through per pupil aid, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

"Imagine how much better off our students — our future workforce — would be if we eliminated the excessive overhead at DPI and put that funding directly into the classrooms," Sanfelippo said.

Evers is up for re-election in 2017, the soonest the constitutional change could be put before voters for approval. A campaign consultant said Evers plans to seek a third term.

The amendment would have to pass two consecutive legislative sessions and be approved by voters before the constitution would be changed to give the governor the power to make the appointment.

The position, which is in charge of the state Department of Public Instruction, which oversees the state's schools, is officially nonpartisan. But the races have historically had partisan overtones. Evers, who was first elected in 2009, has Democratic backing and has defeated two opponents who were supported by conservatives.

Evers has worked with Republican Gov. Scott Walker on a variety of education issues since 2011, but they have also had very public clashes over school funding, union power and Common Core academic standards. Evers also signed a petition to recall Walker from office in 2012.

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