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5 Questions for the Governor: Wisconsin’s Tony Evers

Where do you go for the top news in Early Learning at the state level? Check out “5 Questions for the Governor,” where we’ll explore the top Early Learning challenges and successes in states across the nation. We’re thrilled to partner with The Hunt Institute on this series. Read them all.


1. In April, you announced $50 million in Beyond the Classroom grants to support children’s learning opportunities and programs, including mental health. How do you see initiatives like this supporting the state’s well-being, economy and growth?

I’ve always said that what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state, and that means making sure every kid has access to a high-quality public education, from early childhood to our universities and technical colleges. It also means making sure our kids have the mental health support they need to be successful both in and out of the classroom, lead full lives and take advantage of all the opportunity here in Wisconsin.

“Throughout my career, it’s been clear to me that investing in our kids is the best investment our state can make, and it will pay dividends for our state’s future and our economy.” — Governor Tony Evers

The coronavirus pandemic has hit folks especially hard, so as we continue our work to bounce back from the coronavirus pandemic, supports for mental health are even more critical for our state. Initiatives, like the “Beyond the Classroom” grants, ensure young folks get the care they need by funding learning opportunities and mental health programs for school-aged kids in our state.

2. Wisconsin is one of six states selected to collaborate with the National Governors Association (NGA) on strategies for equitably addressing the social-emotional needs of children and families during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Why is the area of social-emotional development a priority for you and the state? How do you see this effort contributing to children’s success in school and life?

First Lady Evers and I are thrilled to have the opportunity to work with the NGA on finding new, equitable strategies for supporting Wisconsin kids and families. One of the best ways we can set our kids up for success—at home, in our classrooms and for their futures—is by ensuring they know how to recognize, talk about and manage emotions in a healthy, positive way.

And the pandemic has further underscored the need for comprehensive, whole-child approaches to education that are grounded in learning and development best practices and data-driven strategies. Social and emotional learning is a critical tool in these efforts, and that’s why it’s been a priority of ours as we work to ‘connect the dots’ and take a holistic approach to supporting our kids. The grant funding provided by the NGA will allow us to further explore social and emotional learning strategies, benefit from NGA’s expertise, and increase the mental, social and emotional well-being of kids and families in our state.

3. The Badger Bounceback agenda aims to do what’s best for kids, providing all children access to high-quality public education, mental health supports at schools, expanding access to early childhood education and child care, and investing in higher education. In what ways do you see these investments as critical to the prosperity of Wisconsin, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and concern for learning loss?

I said it before, but it bears repeating: what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state. That’s why I made education and childcare a top priority in my 2021-23 budget proposal, and it’s why I’m committed to ensuring our kids, schools and families have the support and resources they need to bounce back better than ever from this pandemic. Investing in education, from early education to high school to our colleges and universities, will ensure our kids and Wisconsinites across the state are prepared and have the skills and knowledge they need to compete and succeed in a 21st century economy. And given the challenges of the past year, these investments are more important than ever, not just for students, but for educators, staff and school administrators as well.

4. In March, you announced an innovative state plan to support early care and education providers, partners and Wisconsin families. Phase Two of this plan incentivizes private sector partnerships by offering funding to businesses to purchase infant and toddler child care slots for their employees. What was the basis to such an innovative strategy, and how do you see this complementing the work that supports children ages three to five?

My priority as governor is to ensure Wisconsinites and their families have the support they need to thrive, especially as we continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Secretary Emilie Amundson’s and my goal with our two-phase plan to use the Child Care Development Block Grant award our state received was to do just that—help set Wisconsin families up for success by giving them additional resources to secure access to affordable, quality care. It’s just common sense to engage and support private-sector partnership in this effort, which is why we prioritized that in phase two of the plan, along with investing in workforce development and accessibility.

“While the budget that was passed recently did not include everything I asked and hoped for, I won’t stop fighting to do what’s best for Wisconsin’s kids.” — Governor Tony Evers

5. How has your experience as a life-long educator contributed to your work as Governor? What are you biggest hopes for Wisconsin children and families?

Of course. I spent most of my career in education—beginning as a science teacher many years ago in Baraboo, Wisconsin—and that’s, frankly, why I decided to run for governor in the first place. I saw what was happening to our kids and our schools and wanted to do something about it.

And since having been elected governor, education has always been a central focus of my work because, for me, it always comes back to our kids. Throughout my career, it’s been clear to me that investing in our kids is the best investment our state can make, and it will pay dividends for our state’s future and our economy. And now, as we continue working to put this pandemic behind us, it’s more important than ever that we invest in Wisconsin kids and families.

I proposed significant investments in our kids and our schools in our most recent budget—we got some of what we wanted, like ensuring two-thirds state funding for our schools—but we didn’t get nearly as close to where I’d like us to be when it comes to meaningfully investing in public education in our state. So, while the budget that was passed recently did not include everything I asked and hoped for, I won’t stop fighting to do what’s best for Wisconsin’s kids.

Photograph was taken pre-pandemic.

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