Education deserves to be front and centre

November 24, 2018
By Ian Hanna, Director of Government and Stakeholder Relations

By the time you read this, we’ll know the name of the new Governor of Wisconsin. You might be asking yourself why you should care. Well, it’s been an interesting race and will perhaps provide a road map for Saskatchewan’s electoral contest in 2020. 

Regardless of the outcome, the achievement in Wisconsin was to make education the number one issue in the election. Saskatchewan is a lot like America’s Dairyland. We may not have as many cows–Wisconsin has as many dairy cows as all of Canada. However, families in both jurisdictions share a visceral attachment to the land. They share a proud football legacy engendering strong community pride. Perhaps making public education a primary issue in politics should be another similarity that can be drawn between the two jurisdictions. 

The Democratic candidate in the race for Wisconsin Governor is Tony Evers. His website biography proudly proclaims he’s been an educator his entire life. In the next sentence, Evers says the most meaningful moments in his life have happened in the classroom. Evers most recently served as Wisconsin’s Superintendent of Schools. 

In an article that appeared this summer in The Atlantic magazine (August 8, 2018), pundits noted the oddity of having an education official in the running for the state’s top political job. They also noted the oddity of having education issues resonate so strongly in a campaign. As the article noted, American voters focus on a lot of things–immigration, guns, health care and the economy. Normally, education “is an issue that doesn’t typically poll near the top of the list.”

The incumbent in the race is the Republican, Scott Walker, who achieved a measure of national profile with a short-lived run for President. Governor Walker is also keen to let people know he supports public education. In June, he described himself as a pro-education Governor who is going to “continue to build off that.”

Much like Saskatchewan, Wisconsin has seen its share of economic hardship since the financial meltdown 10 years ago. And like Saskatchewan, education operating funding was cut. In fact, funding for public schools in the state has yet to return to 2011 levels, according to the Center For American Progress in the aforementioned article.

I think the reason why politicians of all stripes in Wisconsin are keen to talk about funding for education is that parents and students have concerns. The Atlantic article also points to a June poll by Marquette University. It shows three out of five respondents are willing to pay more in taxes, if it meant no more cuts to public education.

I think the people of Saskatchewan want to be proud of the public education system in this province. They want to know that every child, regardless of where they live, has access to a professional teacher who has adequate support. They want to know there is a sound curriculum and the proper resources to address the individual needs of every student.

Perhaps we’re not at the point where the people of Saskatchewan, like the people of Wisconsin, have grown truly tired of education cuts. Perhaps there will never be a point where a majority of Saskatchewan residents would be willing to pay more taxes in order to assure stable and predictable funding for public education.

What I do know is that education is crucial to the future of Saskatchewan. As an issue in the 2020 election, it deserves a lot of attention.