Pecatonica School District Superintendent Jill Underly won the race for state superintendent on Tuesday, with the support of teachers unions and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
Underly cruised to a double digit lead, defeating Deborah Kerr, the retired superintendent of the Brown Deer school district, who received support from conservatives including the American Federation for Children, the pro-school-voucher group founded by Donald Trump’s former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
While Kerr supported Wisconsin’s school voucher program, Underly spoke out against using taxpayer money earmarked for public education to pay for private school tuition.
“Throughout my childhood, some of the brightest guiding stars in my life were my teachers,” Underly declared on Tuesday night in a Facebook Live event.
Kerr acknowledged Underly’s victory and offered her congratulations.
Underly’s first priority when she takes office, she said, will be making sure that all public schools have the resources they need to safely open in the fall for in-person learning.
Among her other top priorities will be providing mental health services in the schools to help deal with the trauma of the pandemic, and exploring extending the school day and the school year to allow for additional instruction and enrichment for K-8 students.
The most pressing issue facing Wisconsin’s public schools is a broken school funding system, Underly said. She plans to support the findings of the state’s bipartisan blue ribbon commission on school funding and to try to work with the Legislature on more equitable funding.
Her other priorities include early childhood education and expanding access to full-day 4-year-old kindergarten, teacher recruitment and retention, and diversifying the teaching force.
Underly said she plans to work closely with the Legislature and that she will put together a bipartisan team to support public schools.
“It’s clear that no matter where you live in Wisconsin or how you vote, Wisconsinites care about their public schools,” she said. Her goal, she added, is “to make sure that we’re advancing policies that help all kids in Wisconsin and help all communities.”
“We all want the same thing; we want strong public schools,” she said. “So let’s work together to accomplish that.”
Underly will begin her four-year term in July.