Gov. Tony Evers said Tuesday he thinks schools should consider more summer school or starting classes earlier this fall to help children catch up, saying there had been a loss of learning during the pandemic, regardless of how districts had handled it.
Evers also voiced support for teachers resuming in-person instruction when their schools are ready, saying it wasn't imperative that teachers first receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
The governor said decisions on whether to resume in-person instruction and whether to start classes early would be made at the local level although Wisconsin law requires districts to get a waiver from the state if they want to open before Sept. 1.
"We might have to change that temporarily," Evers said at a WisPolitics forum. "At the end of the day, we really do need school districts to consider what we can do to catch kids up."
Evers, who was a science teacher, high school principal and state superintendent of public instruction before he became governor, said he'd personally favor robust summer school programs to help students catch up, but he acknowledged that it would be up to parents to decide whether to enroll their children.
He said there was no question that there had been a "learning loss" during the pandemic.
"And I'm not blaming anybody for this," Evers said. "This is a pandemic where we've had 6,000 people die in the state of Wisconsin — more than that. And so it's just one of the byproducts of that. And we have to face that and make sure that our kids get caught up."
While the majority of districts throughout Wisconsin have resumed in-person instruction, the state's largest districts are still teaching most students virtually.
Republican lawmakers have proposed a variety of financial incentives to reward districts for teaching students in-person as well as financial penalties to punish districts that remain virtual.
Sign up for daily news!
Stay informed with WPR's email newsletter.
Evers rejected their latest proposal Tuesday, saying it cost schools money to educate students, whether virtually or in-person.
"Different school districts have different capabilities to mitigate," Evers said. "So I've trusted the leadership and frankly, the teachers in those districts to make that decision and they'll continue to do that."
At the same time, Evers said he didn't think that teachers needed to be vaccinated before they return to in-person instruction, saying he was basing his decision on guidance from the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention.
"I know my teacher friends may disagree with me, but (the) CDC says it's not imperative," Evers said. "We're trying to get as many shots in people's arms as quickly as possible. But (the) CDC says it's not a mandatory thing. And I follow that leadership."
Teachers first became eligible for the vaccine in Wisconsin on March 1.
Also on Tuesday, Evers downplayed GOP opposition to many of the ideas in his proposed state budget, saying that at the end of the day he thought both parties wanted to support funding for schools, clean water and small businesses.
"They called it a 'wish list,'" Evers said. "If it is, it's a wish list of the people of Wisconsin."
Evers also said he expected Republicans would support his proposal to spend $200 million to expand broadband.
"Who the hell doesn't want more broadband in this state?" Evers said. "The one that is the most obvious to me is broadband."