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Republican proposal: Let governor appoint state public schools chief

Republican proposal: Let governor appoint state public schools chief

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Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin have introduced a plan to end elections for three state constitutional offices and let governors fill the positions.

State Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton, and state Rep. Shae Sortwell, R-Two Rivers, proposed an amendment to the Wisconsin Constitution that would turn the state schools superintendent, treasurer and secretary of state into Cabinet positions, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday. The amendment also would make the treasurer the head of the state Department of Revenue, eliminating the agency secretary.

The schools superintendent runs the state Department of Public Instruction, which is responsible for overseeing K-12 schools, administering state aid to school districts and licensing teachers. The position is officially nonpartisan, but current Superintendent Jill Underly has support from Democrats and the state’s largest teachers union.

Democrats Sarah Godlewski and Doug LaFollette currently serve as treasurer and secretary of state, respectively. Republicans have stripped those offices of almost all their duties over the last 20 years, however. The GOP tried to amend the Constitution to eliminate the treasurer’s office, but voters chose to keep it in a statewide referendum in 2018.

Constitutional amendments must be passed in two consecutive legislative sessions and then in a statewide referendum.

Sortwell told the Journal Sentinel he believes the plan to make all three officers appointees will have a better chance to succeed because it would allow the governor to give the treasurer and secretary of state more duties.

“We’re not eliminating anything,” Sortwell said. “We’re putting them under the governor so we can give them more responsibility and more accountability.”

Aides to Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, didn’t say whether they support the proposal.

DPI spokesperson Abigail Swetz said voters should be involved in choosing Wisconsin’s education leader. Godlewski, who is running for U.S. Senate, said Republicans should stop “meddling” with the Constitution and pass meaningful policies such as making health care more affordable. LaFollette couldn’t be reached for comment.


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