MADISON (AP) - Wisconsin schools superintendent Tony Evers on Thursday used his annual speech on the status of education in the state to call for an increase in respect for teachers, saying they have been unfairly targeted in the fight over Gov. Scott Walker's collective bargaining law.
Evers made the plea less than a week after a judge restored the right of teachers and local government workers to collectively bargain over issues such as workplace rules and hours that were prohibited under Walker's law passed last year.
Teachers were a big part of the force that opposed Walker's proposal, protesting at the Capitol in such large numbers that schools across the state had to shut down for days. The statewide teachers union has traditionally backed Democrats, and Walker opponents said his proposal was really designed to cripple his political opponents and not help balance the budget as he claimed.
Evers, in his speech delivered in the Capitol rotunda where many of teachers protested last year, said every Wisconsin resident should feel alarmed when teachers aren't respected and valued in their communities.
"No other profession deserves more respect," Evers said. "No other profession is more responsible for securing our economic future."
Evers opposed Walker's collective bargaining changes but has worked closely with him on a number of other educational system changes. Walker was in Brillion for a meeting of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and did not attend the speech.
In a statement in reaction to Evers' speech, Walker's spokesman Cullen Werwie said "transforming education will continue to be one of Governor Walker's top priorities in the next state budget."
The head of the largest statewide teachers union praised Evers.
"We call on local school boards and administrators to follow his lead in setting the tone for partnership and cooperation by working with local unions to hear the concerns and ideas of front-line employees," said Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council.
Evers, in a news conference after his speech, declined to offer an opinion on the court ruling affecting collective bargaining. He was scheduled to attend a meeting of the state's superintendents on Friday where the effect of the court decision was to be a major topic.
In his speech, Evers also renewed his call for adopting his proposal to revamp the way schools are funded. He first introduced the idea in November 2010, but it went nowhere in the face of a roughly $3 billion state budget shortfall at the time.
Evers said he plans to reintroduce it in November once new school aid numbers are released.
He also used the speech to highlight other initiatives, including replacing the current statewide Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exams with a battery of ACT tests.
Evers also said that this year he will push to extend the new statewide accountability system to voucher schools.
The Republican-controlled Legislature earlier this year approved new kindergarten screening exams and teacher evaluations that did not include charter or private voucher schools. Democrats and Evers complained about the disparity. Walker and Republican sponsors said at the time those changes weren't ready for the charter or voucher schools.
Evers also called for reinvesting in public education, saying cuts under the last budget "are real and they are taking a toll."
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