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Scott Walker Tony Evers mashup

Gov. Scott Walker and State Superintendent Tony Evers are at odds over who should represent Evers in a legal case.

State Superintendent Tony Evers is mulling whether to challenge Gov. Scott Walker in next year’s election, he said Thursday.

Evers, 65, said in an interview that a number of people have asked him to consider running for the state’s highest office after he earned a third term as head of the Department of Public Instruction in April in a landslide victory.

“A lot of people have talked to me about that,” Evers said about a potential run. “It’s an open question. … People are calling me and I’ve had lots of conversations and I’ll continue to do that.”

A spokesman for Walker’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Evers is the only Democrat to run a state agency, which oversees the state’s 422 public school districts and the state’s private school voucher programs.

He energized the state party in April when he earned a third term with 70 percent of votes cast over Republican-backed candidate Lowell Holtz, former Whitnall School District superintendent.

Evers’ April win followed a catastrophic November general election for Democrats in which former Secretary of State and presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and former U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold failed to win their respective races, and Democrats in the state Legislature lost seats in a year they were expected to gain them.

“I’m guessing (that) it’s because I am a candidate who has won three times at the state level and last time I got 70 percent of the vote,” Evers said about why he believes he was asked to run against Walker.

Though he has not officially announced, Walker is expected to announce after the 2017-19 state budget is passed that he will seek a third term and has mounted his probable campaign largely on a significant boost of funding he has proposed for public school districts.

Since proposing his spending plan for the next two years, Walker has touted his education proposal at nearly 50 public schools so far this year — about four times the number of schools he visited during his entire first year as governor.

Support for more funds

Recent Marquette Law School polling shows significant public support in Wisconsin for increasing state funding for public schools, an attitude that could become central to a potential matchup between Evers and Walker.

Walker has proposed $649 million in new spending for schools within his $11.5 billion plan for K-12 education. His proposal provides about $227 million more in aid than what Evers asked for in his agency budget request.

Since he was first elected state superintendent in 2009, Evers has asked Walker and the Legislature four times to significantly increase funding for schools, by raising state-imposed revenue limits and changing the equalized aid formula to account for districts with high poverty, declining enrollment and rural issues. His proposal to revamp the state’s funding formula has repeatedly been ignored until this year, when Walker included some of his proposals.

Evers specifically asked this year for a $200-per-student increase in districts’ revenue limits in 2017-19 and $204-per-student increase in 2018-19. Walker included that increase in his current budget proposal using state funds rather than property taxes, and added funding for rural schools.

Evers earlier this year praised Walker’s proposal, describing the plan as a “pro-kid budget” and “an important step forward.”

But until now, the two have been at odds over how much money the state and property taxpayers should send to schools, and on Walker’s signature piece of legislation known as Act 10, which all but eliminated collective bargaining for public school teachers and resulted in massive membership losses for the state’s largest teachers union, which has heavily backed Evers.

Evers also has repeatedly criticized Walker for his previous three budgets that cut or froze public school spending and expanded the number of families who could enroll children in private schools through taxpayer-funded vouchers.

If Evers decides to challenge Walker, he would join recent college graduate Bob Harlow, of Barneveld, and Ramona Whiteaker, of Stoughton, as the only formally declared Demcoratic gubernatorial candidates.

Other potential candidates who have said they’re considering a run or have not ruled out the possibility include Madison Mayor Paul Soglin; state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma; former Democratic Party of Wisconsin chairman Matt Flynn; Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ; state Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh; businessman Andy Gronik; and state Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire.

“I’m not at the decision point yet,” Evers said Thursday.

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Molly Beck covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal.