By SCOTT BAUER
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker, who famously promised in 2010 to create 250,000 jobs but still hasn’t done it, has made a new pledge for his latest campaign: give Wisconsin the country’s highest rate in the country for high-school graduations.
Walker set the goal for 2023, which would be the end of his third term in office if he is re-elected in the fall. He’s making it a part of what he’s calling an “aggressive” push to define himself as a “pro-education governor,” hoping to blunt a central argument of Democrats who argue his policies have worsened public education in the state.
It’s an unusual goal, said Jennifer Zinth, the head of high school-related policy research at the Education Commission of the States.
“I don’t recall a governor in the last few years saying we want to be number one in the country in terms of a high school graduation rate,” she said. Typically the priority in states, whether it’s set by the governor or other elected officials, is to work at raising the graduation rate rather than measuring it against other states, Zinth said.
“States have been working really hard over the last decade using a variety of strategies to get more high school students to graduate,” she said.
When Walker took office in 2011, Wisconsin’s graduation rate of 87.2 percent was ranked second in the nation, based on data compiled by the National Center for Education Statistics. By 2016, Wisconsin’s graduation rate had climbed to 88.2 percent, but other states had leapfrogged it, dropping Wisconsin to ninth. Iowa was tops, at 91.3 percent.
Viewed another way, Wisconsin’s graduation rate increased just 1 percentage point in Walker’s first six years. Many now wonder if there realistically is much more room for further increases.
Perhaps the biggest difficulty facing Wisconsin — not only for ts graduation rate but also its student test scores and other measures of success — is the difference in performance between black and white students. Even as Wisconsin’s average graduation rate has increased in recent years, the difference between black and white students was the nation’s worst. Wisconsin’s graduation rate for black student was the country’s third-lowest.
To increase graduation rates, Walker said this week that he will invest in more programs to help students graduate and get on the path to college, technical school, an apprenticeship or employment.
But he’s also looking at making dramatic changes to Milwaukee Public Schools to deal with financial and academic troubles, including breaking it up into smaller districts. Milwaukee’s graduation rate in 2016 was just below 60 percent.
Walker is seeking to give Wisconsin the highest graduation rate as part of what he calls an “aggressive” push to define himself as a “pro-education governor,” hoping to blunt a central argument of Democrats looking to oust him.
Democrats see Walker’s latest pledge as a hollow campaign goal that will be difficult, if not impossible, to meet.
“Scott Walker can make all the promises he wants, but Wisconsinites know when it comes to public education the emperor is wearing no clothes,” said Tony Evers, a Democratic candidate for governor who is also state superintendent of schools. “By making campaign promises he can’t keep, Scott Walker is just setting our kids up for failure.”