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Tommy Thompson on Education

Former Secretary of H.H.S.; former Republican Governor (WI)


School funding & mandates from states, not Feds

Question 2. Are you willing to help eliminate federal mandates and federal funding for education and reallocate those funds to the states?

Mark Neumann: Yes

Tommy Thompson: Yes

Source: 2012 Wisconsin Tea Party Senate Debate Questionnaire , Aug 13, 2012

Let’s eradicate illiteracy in Wisconsin

Let’s eradicate illiteracy in Wisconsin. We’re setting up reading academies to train teachers in the best ways to teach children to read. And we’re developing web-based reading methods for elementary school teachers.

Eliminating illiteracy will require the dedicated effort of us all -- from parents to teachers to employers and churches. There’s no greater legacy we can leave our next generation.

Source: 2001 State of the State Address , Jan 31, 2001

Choice and local accountability are keys to good schools

At the root of Gov. Thompson’s nationally recognized education reforms is the belief that parents know best how to educate their children. Government’s role is to provide parents with the tools, the choices and the foundation for providing their children with a world-class education. He has worked tirelessly to shift authority over education from a centralized bureaucracy to the parents in Wisconsin’s communities. And he’s making schools more accountable to the people they serve.
Source: WI Governor’s website , Jan 8, 2001

End Social Promotion; establish standards instead

In order to maintain the high level of achievement we have come to expect from our students, the days of promoting students to the next grade solely because of their age - “social promotion” - is over. Gov. Thompson believes we owe it to our students, parents, schools and communities to guarantee that public education in Wisconsin has meaning.

Students should be advanced to the next grade level based on academic performance that meets local expectations, not based on their age or social skills. Under the governor’s plan, local districts would be required to adopt policies prohibiting social promotion and establish standards by which this is accomplished using the fourth- and eight-grade tests. The locally developed academic standards will allow schools to gauge student performance against a set benchmark. Students who do not meet local criteria will not be advanced to the next grade.

Source: Wisconsin Governor’s web site, “Budget” , Dec 25, 2000

Teacher-led voluntary prayer in public schools

Source: WI Gubernatorial 1998 National Political Awareness Test , Nov 1, 1998

New ideas to improve schools conflict with teachers unions

As the education establishment of government bureaucracy and interest groups grew in size and power, their interests soon came into conflict with any significant change in the status quo. When I proposed reforms, they labeled not just my ideas but me as "anti-education," "anti-teacher," and above all, "anti-children." Some of their characterizations would have been laughable if so many teachers-union members had not believed them. During my reelection campaigns, many would refuse to accept my literature. They would look at my young volunteers and shout, "I'm a teacher!" As though that were enough reason not to even read what I had to say. It was a sad irony. My wife is a public school teacher. Both my parents were public school teachers. I was trying to improve education. I had some new ideas, but these people were conditioned not to even listen.
Source: Power to the People, by Tommy Thompson, p. 87 , Sep 1, 1996

School choice for religious schools in low-income areas

I did support the idea of neighborhood-based schools. There were good schools in many of these low-income neighborhoods, but they were private schools, and most of them had a religious affiliation. I said, "Well, if those schools are doing such a good job, and they're located in the neighborhoods where many of the children live, why not let the children attend those schools?"

"But if they're not going to public school, who will decide where the kid goes?" they asked. "The parents," I said. I didn't even have to think about it.

As we discussed the idea, it started to become clear that school choice would accomplish what both they and I were trying to achieve. It would give parents more control and allow children to attend the best schools in their own neighborhoods; it would not cost the state any additional money, and it would shake up the system. It was a simple, commonsense solution: inject competition into the school system and let the market work by empowering parents as consumers.

Source: Power to the People, by Tommy Thompson, p. 90-91 , Sep 1, 1996

School choice is a philosophy that parents know best

When I announced the expansion of school choice to religious schools in February 1995, this is what I said to the legislature and the citizens of Wisconsin:

School choice is more than a program. It is a philosophy. It is the belief that parents know best when it comes to their own children. It is the belief that poor parents have the same right to choose that other parents have. If a mother in Milwaukee wants her child to walk to the private school across town she's going to have that choice. If that private school across the street has a religious affiliation she is still going to have that choice. Religious values are not the problem. Drop-out rates and low test scores are. Government currently is allowed to pay for whatever preschool a parent chooses. It is allowed to pitch in for whatever college they choose. It is only for kindergarten through high school that we assume bureaucrats know best. Not anymore.

Source: Power to the People, by Tommy Thompson, p.108 , Sep 1, 1996

School-to-work: community-based youth apprenticeships

When we enacted the statute starting youth apprenticeships statewide, we were the first state to do so. We started out small in 1992 with 21 students working as printing apprentices. By the 1995/96 school year, 43 communities across the state had started apprenticeships in 490 different businesses for 881 students.

To make school to work successful, we had to ensure a strong local and community-based role. So, for example, we provide grants--which include federal grants--to local partnerships so they can develop their own youth apprenticeships. Demand is very high. In 1994, we received more than 100 applications.

Wisconsin's school-to-work program works precisely because it is a partnership. The real work of the initiative is done by organized labor, business, parents, and school groups in local communities across the state. State government plays a role of catalyst rather than micromanager. In our entire state government, only 20 employees are assigned to the school-to-work program.

Source: Power to the People, by Tommy Thompson, p.120-122 , Sep 1, 1996


Tommy Thompson on School Choice

Use Milwaukee charters & private choice as model for US

We’ve learned that just spending more money doesn’t buy you more success in the classroom. Nowhere was this more evident than in Milwaukee Public Schools, which were lagging behind. This despite the state increasing its aid to MPS by 55% and funding 82% of its costs. So we started with the principles that every student can learn and parents must be empowered with more choices.

This philosophy spawned some of the nation’s most innovative education reforms. Charter schools. Public school choice. Private school choice for Milwaukee. Charter schools operated by the city of Milwaukee, UW-Milwaukee, and MPS. Nowhere in America does a parent have more choices than in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. And it’s making all the difference. Parents are now more involved in their children’s lives. The public schools are rising to the challenge of competition. There is no doubt in my mind that Milwaukee will become the national model for renewing urban education in America within a few years.

Source: 2001 State of the State Address , Jan 31, 2001

Created the nation’s first private school choice program

Frustrated that low-income parents in Milwaukee had few education alternatives for their children because of their economic status, Thompson pursued a landmark school choice program that empowered those parents to determine which school their children would attend.

In 1990, Thompson created the nation’s first private school choice program. This initial program allowed low-income parents in Milwaukee to send their children to a private non-sectarian school if they chose. This program was an important first step to providing low-income families the same educational opportunities available to families with greater resources.

In 1995, Thompson expanded the private school choice program to include religious schools-another national first. The expansion gave parents a true choice in schools, including more schools in walking distance of their homes. Thompson believes it makes no sense to bus poor Milwaukee children to a failing school across town when a very good school exists down the street.

Source: Wisconsin Governor’s web site, “Budget” , Dec 25, 2000

Instituted $5,100 vouchers for religious schools

The religious school choice program gives vouchers to parents, who then choose the school for their child. The money follows the child and is not to exceed the tuition costs of the private school. The amount of the voucher in 1999-2000 will be about $5,100 per pupil. (Including those state aids and local taxes, the cost of educating each child in Milwaukee’s public schools is about $7,500.) If the actual cost at a chosen private school is less than $5,100, the voucher payment for that child is reduced accordingly.

To be eligible for the program, a student must come from a family whose income is at 175% of the poverty level or below - about $29,225 for a family of four.

After the religious school choice law passed just weeks before the start of school in 1995, about 3,000 low-income parents moved quickly to sign their children up for the religious school choice program. “Religious values are not our problem,” Gov. Thompson said. “Drop-out rates and low test scores are.”

Source: Wisconsin Governor’s web site, “Budget” , Dec 25, 2000

Instituted statewide Charter School system

Wisconsin was one of the first states to have a statewide charter school program, providing the ultimate in local control - the ability for parents, teachers and the community to literally create their own school. This gives communities remarkable flexibility to meet the unique needs of their students, a stark contrast to the one-size-fits-all education system of the past. School districts can create unlimited charter schools under the law.
Source: Wisconsin Governor’s web site, “Budget” , Dec 25, 2000

School choice has made a difference for low-income families

Surely many never thought our landmark school choice program would see the light of day. But finally, low-income parents in Milwaukee can freely send their children to the best school possible - no matter what its affiliation.
Source: 1999 State of the State speech , Jan 27, 1999

Supports school prayer.

Thompson supports the CC Voters Guide question on school prayer

Christian Coalition publishes a number of special voter educational materials including the Christian Coalition Voter Guides, which provide voters with critical information about where candidates stand on important faith and family issues. The Christian Coalition Voters Guide summarizes candidate stances on the following topic: "Voluntary prayer in public schools and facilities"

Source: Christian Coalition Voter Guide 12-CC-q4a on Oct 31, 2012

Supports school vouchers.

Thompson supports the CC Voters Guide question on vouchers

Christian Coalition publishes a number of special voter educational materials including the Christian Coalition Voter Guides, which provide voters with critical information about where candidates stand on important faith and family issues. The Christian Coalition Voters Guide summarizes candidate stances on the following topic: "Vouchers that allow parents to choose private school for their children"

Source: Christian Coalition Voter Guide 12-CC-q7 on Oct 31, 2012

  • Click here for definitions & background information on Education.
  • Click here for policy papers on Education.
  • Click here for a profile of Tommy Thompson.
  • Click here for VoteMatch responses by Tommy Thompson.
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Page last updated: Jul 12, 2013