State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor’s State of Education
Address at the State Capitol
Successes and Challenges in Public Education
State Superintendent of Public Inatruction Carolyn
ambassador and advocate on behalf of our students and families.
In May, I had the pleasure of visiting one of the state’s smallest school districts, Washington Island. I spent the day talking with students, staff, and community
members. The visit reaffirmed my belief that Wisconsin schools are truly the heart of the local community.
Also, in May, I presented the 2020 Teacher of the Year awards to exceptional educators in Ashland, Greendale, Jefferson, and Milwaukee. The energy from the
students, teachers, and staff during that all-school celebration was infectious and heartwarming.
Wisconsin’s educators are second to none, and I was honored to be a part of celebrating the achievements of four of our best, each of whom we will recognize later
in our program.
This is why, at a time when far too many teachers are leaving the profession and too many students aren’t aspiring to become teachers, it is so important we
commit to doing all we can to recruit the next generation of educators and to embrace the ones that we have. At the end of the day, teachers are critical to the
success of our students, and supporting them is one of the most important investments we can make.
I would like to take a moment to recognize another exceptional educator in the audience today, someone near and dear to my heart. Ms. Geraldine Bernard was one
of the first African-American educators to be hired in the Madison school district, a trailblazer in this community and our state.
Gerry was my supervising teacher during my senior year and became a mentor and role model. She helped to form my personal foundation, as an educator, a
leader, and an active citizen. She embodies the very best of us. Educators, like Gerry, are everyday heroes and sheroes, playing crucial roles in our students’
lives. Thank you, Gerry, for all you’ve done for children, families, our community, our state, and me.
While I could celebrate our dedicated educators for hours, it is my visits with our students that truly energize and nourish my soul. From visiting classrooms around
the state, to meeting students from military families, from Skills USA and FFA, students across our state are stepping up and leading in visionary ways exhibiting
skills we want all students to possess.
I had the chance to participate in the Badger State Girls government and leadership conference. I met bright young women with incredible strength and optimism,
which gives me hope for Wisconsin’s future. With young people like these, Wisconsin’s future burns bright.
We have so much to be proud of, yet so much more work to do. While we have some of the highest graduation rates, ACT scores, and Advanced Placement
participation in the country, we have yet to fully reconcile that success with the deep, persistent gaps in achievement, access, and opportunity that exist for far too
many of Wisconsin’s children.
Like many of you, the power and promise of education — particularly for our most underserved students — is central to who I am.
You see, I came from humble beginnings. The ninth of 14 children, born in the segregated South to hard-working parents, Leroy and Lena Stanford.
I grew up in Marks, Mississippi, one of the poorest communities in the country at the time and the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor Peoples’ Campaign
for economic justice and equality.
My parents had limited formal education, but despite the enormity of their challenges, they knew education was the key to a better life. They instilled these values in
my siblings and me, and, as our unrelenting advocates, fought for us to be among the first children to integrate all-white school in our town.
Of course, as a young child, I didn’t fully realize how pivotal school integration would be on our nation’s arc toward justice. What I saw was the opportunity to
access things I did not have, like new books, better facilities, and even a swimming pool.
But I quickly learned an equal right to attend that school did not mean I would have equal opportunities. That message was driven home to me when the adults filled
that swimming pool with cement to prevent the black children from using it, instead of allowing all of us to swim together.
We’ve come a long way since then, but so many challenges remain. Fifty years after the Civil Rights Act, we are still fighting for equitable educational opportunities
for all of our children, no matter their race or background. But, I believe by joining together, with common purpose and common cause, we can deliver public
education that meets the academic, social, and emotional needs of all students and prepares them for success wherever life takes them.
Together, we can have the difficult conversations about race and equity in our schools and our communities and tackle our achievement, access, and opportunity
gap as the crisis it is.
Too many of our students of color, students with disabilities, English learners, and students from low-income families struggle to achieve their dreams and reach
their full potential. We have to get learning right on the front end, or Wisconsin, as a state, will never achieve true success.
So, while we celebrate and work together to build on Wisconsin’s successes, we must also rise together to meet our challenges.
As state superintendent, the core of my agenda is to build on the vision of Every Child a Graduate, College and Career Ready while advancing educational equity for
every child. Along with my talented and dedicated colleagues at the Department of Public Instruction, we are committed to collaborating with schools and districts
to advance this vision.
Whether it is the work of our Equity Council around social and emotional learning, or our efforts to empower local solutions to closing gaps, preparing each and
every Wisconsin child for future success is the cornerstone of everything we do.
This summer, I spoke to the Wisconsin Urban Leadership Institute, a first-of-its-kind effort to convene participants from Wisconsin’s five largest urban districts to
examine their work through an equity lens.
These five districts — Green Bay, Kenosha, Madison, Milwaukee, and Racine — educate nearly 20 percent of all Wisconsin students and represent disproportionate
shares of student groups experiencing our largest gaps. Their work is important to moving the needle on equity in our state, and I look forward to the outcomes of
this groundbreaking partnership.
Now I know our rural schools, as well, face unique challenges — like high poverty rates, declining enrollment, and often higher than average special education
costs — affecting a school’s ability to offer equitable opportunities for all learners. Investing in our rural schools is a critical component of our statewide equity
Every school in our state has a responsibility to ensure all students have access to the resources and educational rigor they need at the right moment in their
education. To that end, we crafted an equity budget aimed at investing in students all across our state.
Many parents, teachers, school administrators, and school board members continue to articulate what they believe is needed to improve outcomes for all children
— ideas like increases in special education funding, more mental health services, more support for English learners, and investments in early childhood,
afterschool programming, and school nutrition.
The budget Governor Evers signed into law this summer is a down payment on that commitment to equity. While it is not everything we asked for, this budget
makes an investment in all of Wisconsin’s children and begins to provide additional support to some of our most underserved.
As you know, student mental health is a challenge schools must address given the statistics of one in five students nationally experiencing a mental health issue.
This budget doubles the funding for our mental health grants.
We anticipate 120,000 students will be impacted. I thank the governor and the legislature for their efforts and applaud their bipartisan commitment to mental health
supports for students.
There are other bright spots in the budget. School districts have the first revenue limit increase in five years, and new increases in per pupil funding. There is more
investment in rural schools, through full funding of sparsity aid, increases in high cost transportation aid, and the Rural Teacher Talent Program.
Families will have more access to information, resources, and services through new funding for our public libraries.
Last, but not least, this budget finally shattered the decade-long freeze on special education funding. We received an additional $96 million investment.
While I am grateful special education funding finally got a long overdue increase, the reality is the state will still reimburse only a fraction of what districts are
required to spend under the law. Districts’ unfunded special education costs will still exceed $1 billion, and school districts around the state will still have to find
ways to make up that gap. That funding gap affects all students.
Editor’s Note – On September 19, Carolyn Stanford Taylor gave her first State of Education address as the
Wisconsin State Superintendent for Public Education in the State Capitol’s Rotunda. The following is an excerpt
from that speech.
It is indeed an honor to address you today as your State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
I am grateful to Governor Tony Evers, our previous state superintendent, a lifelong educator, a tireless
advocate for Wisconsin’s children, and friend for entrusting me with this opportunity to serve our students,
schools, libraries, and state. Thank you.
I have spent nearly forty years in education — as a teacher, a principal, all in the Madison school district and
an assistant state superintendent — and I feel more energized than ever to make a difference in the lives of all
One of the best parts of this job is traveling across the state and witnessing the innovation and collaboration
happening in our schools and communities. Wisconsin has excellent schools, amazing educators and staff,
and bright, thoughtful students filled with curiosity, wonder, and possibility. I am so blessed to be an
Although we didn’t get everything we asked for, there is positive forward momentum on
issues we care about, and that’s a good thing. Thank you to those who devoted
countless hours in support of our budget request. This is evidence of the difference we
can make when we work together focused on the right goal — improving the education
of all students. I am committed to continue working with the legislature and the
governor on achieving this goal.
While we that know state policy can’t do everything needed to level the playing field for
our children, we can work to ensure our system of school finance does as much as
possible to give our students — all of our students — what they need to be successful.
The power and promise of public education has long been a beacon, the great
equalizing force in our society and our democracy. It is the driving force behind so
many of us who have dedicated our lives to this vocation, and what continues to fuel
our fight for educational equity for all of our learners. Today, the unity we find in working
together hand in hand on behalf of every Wisconsin child could not be more important.
Together, we have an unprecedented opportunity to make progress. To remove and
reduce barriers to student success.
Together, with our legislature and our governor, we can continue to make the progress
on a system of school funding that is responsive to the needs of every child.
Together, with our business partners, we can help prepare our students today to be
successful when they create the jobs of tomorrow.
Together, we can deliver on the power and the promise of a quality Wisconsin
education for every child.
And together, as the beneficiaries of the strong public schools, colleges, and
universities built and sustained by the generations that came before us, we can pay it
forward. The torch has been passed to us, to build on our successes while confronting
our deep-rooted challenges, to make the choices today that will leave things better for
all of our children tomorrow.
Thank you for your leadership, your advocacy, and your dedication to our children, our
schools, and our state. I look forward to working with each of you on this journey.
God bless you.