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Deborah Kerr and Jill Underly advance in state superintendent race

Deborah Kerr and Jill Underly advance in state superintendent race

2020 Election Day 110320 31-11032020144509 (copy)

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Deborah Kerr and Jill Underly have advanced out of the seven-person primary race to become the next state superintendent of public instruction.

The race for the state's top education official was the only statewide election on the ballot Tuesday, an election that saw low turnout as spring primaries in odd years often do. The two received similar vote shares, with Underly at 86,969 and Kerr at 84,066 as of 10 p.m., according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel results.

The next closest finishers were Sheila Briggs, at 49,581 votes, and Shandowlyon Hendricks-Williams with 36,094 at 10 p.m.

The post is open as Carolyn Stanford-Taylor is not running for election. Stanford-Taylor was appointed to the role after Gov. Tony Evers was elected governor in 2018.

On most issues, the seven candidates for the job agreed, though there were some differences on school choice, among other things. The biggest difference was in their experience.

The group included Briggs, Joe Fenrick, Troy Gunderson, Hendricks-Williams, Kerr, Steve Krull and Underly.

Kerr was the superintendent of Brown Deer Schools for 13 years until she left the job in June 2020. She previously worked in a variety of educational sectors and served as the president of the national School Superintendents Association and the Wisconsin Association of School District Administrators.

Underly has been the superintendent of the Pecatonica Area School District since 2015. She is a former elementary school principal and high school teacher and worked at the Department of Public Instruction for five years.

[A voter's guide to the seven-person race for Wisconsin state superintendent]

Kerr received financial support from some conservatives, but said she is a Democrat who voted for Joe Biden. She did not come out as strongly against school choice as most of the other candidates, but stressed that all schools that receive public dollars should be under the same accountability standards.

Underly focused on equity and helping rural schools throughout her campaign. She said she would create a cabinet-level position focused on equity and closing the achievement gap and invest in early childhood education.

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Scott Girard is the local k-12 education reporter at the Cap Times. A Madison native, he joined the paper in 2019 after working for six years for Unified Newspaper Group. Follow him on Twitter @sgirard9.