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Democratic-backed candidate elected head of Wisconsin schools

MADISON, Wisconsin (AP) – Jill Underly garnered support from the state teachers’ union and an overwhelming, Democratic Party-fueled financial advantage to win the election on Tuesday as Wisconsin’s school superintendent, defeating Deb Kerr , supported by the Republicans.

Underly took a double-digit victory, based on unofficial results.

Underly, 43, is the superintendent of the Pecatonica Rural School District and previously worked for the Wisconsin Department of Public Education, which she will now head. Kerr, 63, is the former superintendent of the Brown Deer School District in suburban Milwaukee.

The race was officially non-partisan, but the Democrats and their money lined up firmly behind Underly as Kerr found support from the Republicans. Kerr has come forward as a staunch supporter of the private school voucher program, a Tory favorite, while Underly is an opponent.

Underly, in her victory statement, said she was “especially grateful to the Democratic Party of Wisconsin” and its leaders.

“Wisconsin’s children and public schools face significant challenges as we strive to get back to normal, catch up with every student, and support their mental health and well-being in the aftermath of this pandemic and tremendous trauma and disruption it has caused to all of us, ”Underly said. “Overcoming these obstacles won’t be easy, but I know that if we work together we can make it happen and do what’s right for our children.”

Underly vowed that she would always do what’s best for the students.

“We have a long way to go, but I am ready to get to work from day one and build a stronger, more equitable public education system that provides every child, every day, the education system. world-class audience it deserves, “she said.

Underly will now have the task of leading the department at a time when schools open more widely as COVID-19 vaccinations increase, GOP-controlled legislature debates how much to invest in education and districts are preparing to receive $ 2.2 billion at the federal level. stimulus money.

The persistent achievement gap, one of the worst in the country, remains amid more questions about the long-term impact on struggling students who were forced to take online courses last year. The state superintendent oversees education policy in Wisconsin, which includes distributing grants to schools and overseeing the licensing of teachers, but her power is limited and she must implement policies enacted by the legislature.

Underly takes over from Carolyn Stanford Taylor, who was superintendent since Tony Evers stepped down in mid-term in 2019 after being elected governor. Stanford Taylor refused to run for a full term. Evers had headed the state education department for 10 years. The headquarters was open for the first time in 12 years.

Kerr’s campaign was marked by a series of missteps, most notably when Kerr, who is white, tweeted that she was called a racial insult to black people when she was 16 because “my lips were bigger. than most and that was the reference given to me. ”She apologized, but her campaign manager and lawyer resigned.

Underly accused Kerr of being transphobic for his support of bills banning transgender girls from playing on girls’ sports teams. Underlying supporters have also attacked Kerr over a 10-year-old financial scandal in his old neighborhood. Kerr accused Democrats of trying to buy the election and said Underly was in the pocket of the teachers’ union.

Kerr’s campaign won the support of former Republican Gov. Scott Walker and other Tories, but it failed to overcome Underly’s financial advantage. Outside groups supporting Underly outscored Kerr’s forces by nearly 4 to 1, and Underly raised $ 1.3 million in the last two months of the race, compared to just $ 71,000 for Kerr. Most of Underly’s money, $ 900,000 in cash and in-kind, came from the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

Democrats have prioritized the race to avoid disappointment in Wisconsin after President Joe Biden’s narrow victory in November. The Liberals have also held the position of state superintendent for decades. For 20 years, the conservative candidate in the race has been beaten by double digits.

Also on the ballot were two open state legislative seats in districts previously held by Republicans.

Republican State Representative John Jagler, of Watertown, faced Democrat Melissa Winker for the 13th Senate District evacuated by Scott Fitzgerald when he was elected to Congress in November. Jagler was first elected to the Assembly in 2012. Winker had previously run for the Assembly in 2018 and 2020, but lost.

In the 89th arrondissement of the Assembly, which includes the town of Marinette. Republican Elijah Behnke faced Democrat Karl Jaeger. Behnke owns a cleaning business and is a former youth pastor, while Jaeger ran for the seat in 2020 and lost. This seat was opened following the resignation of Republican John Nygren from the Legislative Assembly.

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