Underly on Race for Superintendent

Underly on Race for Superintendent
General election candidate Jill Underly discusses her run for State Superintendent of Schools.

Transcript

Frederica Freyberg:

Now to election news and April 6. That’s the general election day that will determine the next school superintendent. Last Friday we introduced you to one of the candidates in the race, Deborah Kerr. Tonight, a conversation with her opponent Jill Underly. Underly a former high school and middle school social studies teacher. She’s worked as a licensing specialist at the Department of Public Instruction and for the past six years Underly has served as the superintendent of the Pecatonica School District. Jill Underly joins us now from Hollandale. Thanks very much for being here.

 

Jill Underly:

Thank you so much.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

So K-12 schools that haven’t reopened are on the precipice of doing so, what are you calling for to fully and safely open to in-person classes?

 

Jill Underly:

Yes. That’s a great question. You know, I know the value of personal — or in-person learning, I should say. It’s better for your kids. It’s better for our parents, our economy, our communities and that’s why I’ve been working with our community and our teachers as well as their school boards to have our schools open. So what we need to do, I’m the only candidate right now who is currently leading a school district during the pandemic. We really need to work together. We need to make sure that there’s buy-in from the teachers, the parents and the board as far as our reopening plans. We need to make sure that our teachers get vaccinated.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

What’s your response to Governor Evers’ budget and his proposals for a major boost in K-12 funding, calling for an increase of $1.6 billion over the next two years? What do you think of that?

 

Jill Underly:

Yeah. I think it’s great. I have a great relationship with Governor Evers. I think that investment in our public schools is really needed. When you think about inequities and you think about before the pandemic, we certainly have had a lot of financial struggles. You know, also when you look at the number of schools that are going to referendum on the ballot especially April 6th, you know that we need the funding in order to keep our schools open and invest in safety measures as well.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

So the budget also calls for caps on private school, state-funded vouchers. Where do you stand on that?

 

Jill Underly:

Yes, I’m 100% unabashedly pro public schools, so I support the cap on the voucher program. Right now we spend $380 million per year on private school vouchers and that’s money that should be in our public schools.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

So another thing the governor is calling for is rolling back parts of Act 10 to restore union collective bargaining rights, for example. As the candidate endorsed by the state’s teachers union, how do you think that, rolling back of Act 10, would help students?

 

Jill Underly:

Yeah. So when I look at Act 10, I mean here we are ten years out, and I thought about the fact that we’re not in any better shape than when Act 10 happened. Our budgets are still broken. We’ve also now destroyed our pipeline to the teaching profession. We struggle recruiting and retaining teachers and really Act 10 certainly made it an undesirable profession. So I would support Governor Evers’ rollback of Act 10 because what it will mean is if we can professionalize the teaching profession once again and get more teachers in front of our kids, that’s what we need to do.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

And this is a big question, but what is your plan for narrowing or eliminating the achievement gap between students of color and white students?

 

Jill Underly:

Yeah. You know, achievement gap is pretty much the popular word I think statewide, but I like to call them opportunity gaps, because when we talk about them about being achievement gaps, we’re putting the blame or the onus or responsibility on the kids. But really it’s a combination of a lot of things that the kids have no control over. It’s a combination of laws and policies and practices. Really what we find is the well-resourced schools have the most opportunities for those kids and those kids are likely to do better in school. So my platform is about early childhood expansion which is bringing that opportunity for high-quality, early childhood experience to kids, recruiting and retaining passionate educators for our kids, expanding mental health access and then fixing our broken funding formula.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

And yet many of these kinds of ideas have been in force for a while and these gaps are so enduring. What about that?

 

Jill Underly:

Yeah. I think, though, that a lot of the things that I have been proposing are research-based and sound but they haven’t been in place for a while. Right now early childhood education is only reimbursed at 60%. We need to expand access for all kids so that every kid, no matter their zip code, has access to a high-quality preschool program because that sets them up for success. When we talk about teacher recruitment and retention, the schools that have the neediest kids or the highest poverty schools, they often have the least experienced teachers because when teachers get more experience, they often go to well-resourced schools where they can earn more money. And that’s not just urban schools, it’s rural schools, too. And when we look at mental health, there’s a shortage of mental health providers in the state. And pre-pandemic it was an epidemic. Post-pandemic we know we need to get mental health aid to our kids. These are all equity-based ideas but they’re also research-based and proven to work. So certainly using the funding, getting the funding to the kids and the schools that need it the most is my highest priority.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

Jill Underly, thank you for joining us.

 

Jill Underly:

My pleasure.

 

Frederica Freyberg:

You can find more complete candidate profiles in the race for DPI superintendent by going to WisconsinVote.org.


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