MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Sheila Briggs, an assistant Wisconsin school superintendent who served under Tony Evers in the state education department before he was elected governor in 2018, announced Tuesday that she is running for the state’s top education job next year.
Briggs becomes the second candidate to announce they are running for state superintendent of public instruction with the April 2021 election nearly 11 months away. Jill Underly, superintendent for the rural Pecatonica Area School District and a former assistant director at the state Department of Public Instruction, announced her candidacy earlier this month.
Both Briggs and Underly worked together at the education department and have donated to Evers, a Democrat. Evers held the job for nine years before using it as a launching pad to run for his successful run for governor in 2018.
The state superintendent seat is open for the first time since 2009 after state Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor, who succeeded Evers in 2019, announced in January she won’t run for a full four-year term. The position of state superintendent, overseeing the Department of Public Instruction, has broad powers overseeing the state’s public school system.
Both Briggs and Underly are running as advocates for public education. A conservative-backed candidate has yet to emerge.
State superintendent races are officially nonpartisan but typically pit Democratic-backed supporters of public schools against candidates with more conservative support who are often advocates for taxpayer-funded vouchers and other choice programs.
Briggs said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press that future funding for the statewide voucher program will have to be evaluated, especially given expected budget cuts caused by the coronavirus pandemic. But she stopped short of calling for ending or limiting enrollment in the program.
Briggs said she was running as a “voracious supporter of our public schools and also interested in supporting all students in the state of Wisconsin.” Briggs said she was committed to closing Wisconsin’s worst-in-the-nation achievement gap; ensuring that every student has access to high-quality public schools, teachers, internet access and computers and providing a well-rounded curriculum.
Briggs has been at the state education department since 2011 and leads the academic excellence division. That division works on a wide array of programs including student standards, teacher licensing, gifted and talented, academic and career planning and early childhood. Briggs began her education career as an elementary school teacher in Madison in 1994, where she also served as a principal and administrator for the district. She worked 16 years for the district before joining the state education department.
Underly has 20 years experience in education, starting her career as a high school teacher in Indiana. She worked at the state education department under Evers from 2009 until 2014 when she left to work as an elementary school principal and director of curriculum and instruction at Pecatonica, jobs she still holds after becoming superintendent in 2015.
Briggs said her background working at all levels of education, including most recently on the state superintendent’s Cabinet helping to run the department, makes her the better candidate.
Underly donated nearly $770 to Evers since 2018. She has also given about $650 to Democratic legislative candidates Kriss Marion and Jeff Wright, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign donation database.
Briggs has donated $1,800 to Evers since 2011. She has given to no other candidate, according to the database.
The election for state superintendent is April 6. If there are more than two candidates, the field will be narrowed in a Feb. 16 primary.