Voters demonstrate strong support for public schools by re-electing Evers, passing school referendums

Wisconsin voters again expressed their strong support for public schools Tuesday by overwhelmingly re-electing State Superintendent Tony Evers and passing the large majority of school referendums.

“As they have done many times before, Wisconsin residents on Tuesday sent a strong message that they want quality public education for their children,” said WEAC President Ron Martin. “They not only re-elected public school advocate Tony Evers by a large majority, they rejected the policies of his opponent, who supported expansion of private school charters and vouchers at the expense of public schools. And their support for local school referendums throughout the state adds an exclamation mark to their statement that they love their public schools.”

Evers was re-elected with 70% of the vote, while voters again agreed to raise raise their own taxes to support public schools. Results showed that 40 of 65 school referendums (61.5%) passed, including the two largest in Verona and Green Bay (see complete results here). School districts are increasingly turning to local school referendums to finance education as state funding for public school declines. Last year, voters approved 122 referendums.

Following his clear election victory, Evers said he believes the real winners are Wisconsin’s 860,000 public school kids. “The little girl in Altoona who loves playing her clarinet, the fourth grader in Greenfield who is excited about his computer class, and the kid from Three Lakes who is driven to invent and comes to school every day to work in the Fab Lab,” he said.

“I believe in public education and I am proud of where we are today. We have high graduation rates, suspensions are down, attendance is up, and the number of kids earning college credit in high school is at an all-time high.”

Evers said that with both the federal and state budgets in process, “it is clear now, more than ever, we will have to continue to fight for public education and the resources our kids need.”

Listen to Tony Evers’ Election Night comments:

State Supt. Evers Election Night Address

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Read more:

Tony Evers sails into third term as Wisconsin education chief

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers sailed into a third term on Tuesday, easily defeating challenger Lowell Holtz. The Associated Press called the race about 35 minutes after the polls closed at 8 p.m. The victory positions Evers to move forward on an agenda that calls for increasing public school funding by more than $700 million.

Advocacy at the local level is generating strong support for public schools, Evers says

State Superintendent Tony Evers addresses the 2017 WEAC Professional Issues Conference.

State Superintendent Tony Evers addresses the 2017 WEAC Professional Issues Conference.

The advocacy work of educators and citizens at the local level is generating enormous support for public education throughout the state, State Superintendent Tony Evers said Saturday in an address to the WEAC Professional Issues Conference.

Evers, who is running for re-election on April 4, noted that in last fall’s election, 84% of school referendums in Wisconsin were approved – and most by huge margins.

“The same people who had anxiety about their own lot in life, the same people who didn’t like government much, the same people who voted for Donald Trump, voted to increase taxes on themselves to make sure their public schools would stay strong,” he said.

When you combine last fall’s election results with those from last April, he said, “600,000 people in the state of Wisconsin voted to increase taxes on themselves to make sure their public schools stay strong.”

“That’s a lot of people, and I can guarantee you at least half of them were Republicans,” Evers said. “So, what that tells me is that our communities support their public schools, period. It’s not a Democrat issue, it’s not a Republican issue, it’s a kid issue.”

Superior citizens, for example, voted last April by a huge margin to raise their taxes by $100 million despite fact the community is going through difficult times.

Evers said he would love to take credit for such results, but, he said, “It’s the local teachers, the local kids, the local parents that have consistently convinced their local folks that public schools are the most important thing for them whether they have kids in public schools or not.”

However, funding public schools through referendums is not sustainable and we must increase state funding for schools, he said.

Evers said we should never be ashamed to ask for more money for public education, and continuous pressure at the local level will make a difference, as evidenced by the fact that  Governor Walker this year is proposing more money for public education, which contrasts with his past budgets.

“This movement, this change in rhetoric from some of our leaders, from the governor and Legislature, it happened because of pressure from you local folks,” Evers said. “We absolutely have changed that conversation, but we changed it at the local level, it did not happen at the state level.”

Evers also said it’s important when distributing state funding to local schools to address equity and make sure communities with kids who are struggling the most get more money.

Citing the growing teacher shortage in Wisconsin, Evers also said it’s important that we “change the rhetoric around our profession” to attract more young people and retain quality educators.

The answer, he said, is not to “dumb down” the profession but to change the way we as a society talk about teaching and education and restore respect to the profession. “This kind of animosity that has been brought on by Act 10 and continued thus far, we just have to change the rhetoric, and I know we can.”

WEAC President Ron Martin addresses the Opening Session of the 2017 WEAC Professional Issues Conference March 3 in Madison. Joining him at the head table are WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen and Emily Sibilski, President-Elect of the Aspiring Educators of Wisconsin.

WEAC President Ron Martin addresses the Opening Session of the 2017 WEAC Professional Issues Conference March 3 in Madison. Joining him at the head table are WEAC Vice President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen and Emily Sibilski, President of the Aspiring Educators of Wisconsin.

Images from the Professional Issues Conference:

Evers says Act 10 ‘turned off a generation of people who want to become teachers’

The 2011 state law known as Act 10 that stripped educators of their collective bargaining rights and reduced their voice in the classroom has “turned off a generation of people who want to become teachers,” State Superintendent Tony Evers said Monday at a pre-election forum.

Evers said the law “made a hell of a big difference,’ and blamed it for a growing shortage of teachers in Wisconsin.

At a forum sponsored by, Evers also said the governor’s state budget proposal to tie a boost in state school aid to a local school district’s compliance with provisions of the Act 10 is “a significant overreach by the state.”

Evers noted that some school districts have found cooperative ways to work with their staff to solve budget issues. According to a WisPolitics report on the forum, Evers noted that Monona Grove teachers had been paying 12 percent toward their health care, as required by Act 10, but achieved savings by switching plans and subsequently reduced the amount staff had to contribute.

“Is that right as a state to say: ‘Well, you shouldn’t be doing that?’” Evers asked at the Milwaukee forum, which featured the two candidates who are seeking the post of State Superintendent in the April 4 election – incumbent Evers and challenger Lowell Holtz.

Also at the forum, Evers said he was “fearful” about how U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will use her “bully pulpit” as secretary.

He said if DeVos comes to Milwaukee to visit a high-achieving voucher school, she should also visit public schools.

“She better go to both,” Evers said. “And she better talk about both in a positive way. She represents all kids, all 680,000 public school kids in the state of Wisconsin, and we need her to be an advocate for those kids.”

Both candidates said they support repeal of the current law that prohibits school districts from starting the school year before September 1.

Following the forum, Evers called for an investigation into Holtz’s use of his school district email account for campaign purposes. Read more about this controversy.

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Evers, Holtz differ on Act 10, Walker’s budget at forum

Candidates for state superintendent at a forum in Milwaukee disagreed about Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to make a proposed boost in per-pupil school aid contingent on compliance with Act 10.

Read more from the Wisconsin State Journal:

Tony Evers, Lowell Holtz debate effect of Act 10 on state teacher supply

MILWAUKEE — Candidates seeking to oversee the state’s schools on Monday disagreed on whether Gov. Scott Walker’s signature legislation curtailing collective bargaining for public school teachers was good for schools in the two final candidates’ first public forum.

Read more from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Wisconsin superintendent candidates weigh in on Betsy DeVos role

State Superintendent Tony Evers on Monday called for the new U.S. secretary of education to use her bully pulpit in the Trump administration’s Cabinet to advocate for all schools, not just the charter and voucher schools she has championed.



Evers says wide margin of victory in primary reflects state’s commitment to public schools

Incumbent Tony Evers, who garnered nearly 70 percent of the vote in a three-way primary race for State Superintendent Tuesday, said his large margin of victory reflects the commitment of Wisconsin residents to quality public education.

“And more importantly, I really tried in this election, thus far and I’m going to continue, to focus on the 860,000 public school kids and their needs and try to avoid the issue of this policy and that policy and focus on kids,” Evers said, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Lowell Hotz, who came in second place with just 23 percent of the vote and will face Evers in the April 4 general election, is a strong supporter of taxpayer-financed private voucher schools and privately run charter schools and is a supporter of President Donald Trump’s controversial pro-privatization U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Evers told he didn’t know if reports of a possible secret deal between Holtz and the other challenger, John Humphries (who garnered just 7 percent of the vote), affected the outcome of the primary. But he said “people in Wisconsin value trustworthiness and integrity.”

“I think this worked against both of them,” Evers told WisPolitics. “I never guessed this race would have that role in it.” WisPolitics went on to report:

And he added that because both his primary opponents “engaged in untrustworthy behavior,” the issue could still dog Holtz as the two head into the general election.

Evers “fully anticipates” outside money will come in during the general election to help Holtz, especially from groups that support school choice, and “will play a role in this race.”

“We’ll be working twice as hard as we were going into this race” in anticipation of the challenge that money would pose, Evers said.

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Read more in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Tony Evers, Lowell Holtz easily advances out of Wisconsin DPI superintendent primary

Two-term Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers was the clear front-runner in Tuesday’s primary election, earning the right to defend his seat in the April election. The Associated Press reported that he would advance, as will former Beloit and Whitnall Superintendent Lowell Holtz. Evers, who is seeking a third four-year term, had about 60% around 8:30 p.m.

Read more in the Wisconsin State Journal:

Tony Evers, Lowell Holtz advance in state superintendent race

State Superintendent Tony Evers easily advanced through Tuesday’s primary election and will face Lowell Holtz in the April 4 general election. Evers, seeking a third term as state superintendent, garnered more than 60 percent of the votes cast on Tuesday as of 8:30 p.m., before votes in liberal Dane County were tallied.

Evers says teachers should have greater voice in school decisions

State Superintendent Tony Evers says he wants to reinvigorate the teaching profession by providing teachers with a greater voice in decision making processes.

“The issue of teachers is important, and a lot of it has to do with the way we treated the profession and portrayed the profession,” Evers said last week in a meeting with Sauk County Democrats, according to a report in the Baraboo News Republic. “We can fix that, and it’s free. Our politicians need to stop denigrating the profession.”

According to the report, Evers also said he was surprised that Governor Walker proposed a $650 million increase in state support for public schools as part of his 2017-19 state budget proposal. Evers had requested a $700 million increase in his state budget request.

“He called me a week before he delivered the budget and left a message saying, ‘You’re going to be surprised this year,’ and I was,” Evers said. “There’s all sorts of hooks there, I’m not going to sugar coat that, but we’re at a point where the trajectory is good.”

Evers is seeking a third term as state superintendent in Tuesday’s (February 21) primary election. Lowell Holtz and John Humphries, who are both advocates for expansion of private school vouchers, are challenging Evers. Holtz and Humphries have been involved in a controversy over reports that they have discussed schemes whereby one would drop out of the race in exchange for a high-paying taxpayer-funded government job after the election, should the other challenger win. The general election is April 4.

Read more about Evers’ meeting with Sauk County Democrats in the Baraboo News Republic:

State’s top educator says public support on the rise

Wisconsin’s top education official told Sauk County Democrats on Thursday that a $650 million increase in state support for public education included in Gov. Scott Walker’s biennial budget proposal caught him by surprise.

Read an opinion piece about the election by John Nichols in the Capital Times:

John Nichols: Tony Evers vs. the DeVos candidates

When Donald Trump nominated billionaire campaign donor Betsy DeVos to serve as secretary of education, advocates for public education were aghast. Diane Ravitch, the education historian who served as George Herbert Walker Bush’s assistant secretary of education, argued: “The previous Republican administrations did not threaten the very existence of public education and teachers unions.

In new videos, Evers highlights the power of arts in education

State Superintendent Tony Evers promotes the importance of arts education for local communities in a new one-minute video message. Intermingled with his own words are excerpts from four video profiles, featuring students for whom arts education has made a tremendous impact.

In his video message, Evers emphasizes that arts are essential in a comprehensive education, helping students become happier, more confident, and more engaged in school:

Student profiles:

The four students – all from Beloit Memorial High School where arts programming is strong in numerous areas – participated in on-camera interviews during a visit to their school by State Superintendent Tony Evers.


Humphries calls for State Education Board and private takeover of targeted schools

State Superintendent candidate John Humphries said he wants to create a State Education Board to oversee the State Superintendent and that he “wants schools that persistently do not meet state standards to be converted into private voucher or charter schools, or a new model of public school or some other governance model.”

But State Superintendent Tony Evers, who is running for re-election, opposes both measures, saying the Superintendent’s office is an independent Constitutional office. Evers said the privatization plan was “like a back to the future — it’s something that failed. It’s No Child Left Behind, John Humphries’ version. It didn’t work back then with President George W. Bush and it’s not going to work with him.”

Humphries, former administrator of the Dodgeville School District, is one of three candidates opposing Evers in the February 21 Primary Election. The General Election is April 4. The other candidates include Lowell Holt, former superintendent of the Beloit School District. Rick Melcher, who failed to get enough signatures to get on the primary ballot, has registered with the Elections Commission as a write-in candidate.

The WEAC Board has announced it is strongly recommending Evers for re-election.

Read more:

Wisconsin superintendent candidate calls for state board

MADISON, Wis. (AP) – Wisconsin’s constitution should be amended to create a state school board that would oversee public education, a candidate running for state superintendent proposed Thursday. The purpose is to hold the state superintendent accountable, said John Humphries, a consultant to the Dodgeville school district and one of three candidates on the Feb.

State superintendent candidate in favor of converting low-performing schools

State Superintendent candidate John Humphries is in favor of creating a way to provide new administration for schools that persistently do not meet state standards and have longstanding gaps in academic achievement between groups of students.

Evers Campaign: Statement on creation of state board of education 

The following statement is from Amanda Brink, campaign manager for State Superintendent Tony Evers’ re-election campaign.

“As State Superintendent, Tony Evers convenes and participates in dozens of advisory councils across our state. Consisting of over 600 Wisconsinites, they regularly provide new ideas and feedback from local communities and the schools they represent. These councils, combined with Tony’s school visits, help shape the policies implemented at DPI. Ensuring kids are front and center of our public education system is Tony’s priority.

We do not need more bureaucracy or more centralized control. The state legislature passes education laws, while the State Superintendent is directly accountable to the citizens. Our Founders debated this at length when writing our Constitution, and they wisely created an independent State Superintendent for a reason.”

Evers’ budget plan boosts state funding of public schools


From the Department of Public Instruction

State Superintendent Tony Evers submitted his 2017-19 budget request to the governor and Legislature Tuesday, outlining key fiscal priorities for students and schools in the upcoming years.

“This budget is about the state partnering with schools to prepare students for college and career,” said Evers. “From Winter to Waukesha, a greater state investment is the best way to demonstrate our shared commitment to kids and tackle persistent achievement gaps.”

The 2017-19 budget proposal represents an increase in funding of 2.7 percent in the first year of the biennium and another 5.4 percent in the second. The larger increase in the second year of the budget would bring equity to school funding through an updated version of the previously introduced “Fair Funding for Our Future.”

The funding reform proposal requests additional spending authority for all school districts to catch up with inflation and increased aid to hold property taxes flat. Fair Funding guarantees a minimum amount for every student ($3,000), incorporates a poverty factor for aid distribution (a 20% weight for impoverished students in the general aid count), and moves the School Levy Credit, First Dollar Credit, and High Poverty Aid to general aid to pay these funds directly to schools. While roughly 94 percent of districts benefit under the proposal, a hold harmless provision is included to ensure that all districts would receive the same dollar amount as under current law.

Additionally, Evers’ proposed increases in special education funding, expands supports for English learners and targets resources for rural schools. Finally, Evers recommends weighting the per pupil categorical aid to account for students in poverty, students learning English, and students in foster care.

“Over the past four years, we have seen an increased reliance on referenda to help keep the lights on,” Evers continued. “Around the state, local communities have taken the lead on funding reform through the ballot box, but the state has to be a good partner and do our share to help small town schools.”

The budget proposal targets funding to increase school-based mental health, including funding for mental health and social workers in schools; grants for school-community collaborations around mental health services in schools; and training of educators and school staff in Mental Health First-Aid, Trauma Sensitive Schools, and school-based Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral and Treatment (SBIRT).

The budget includes proposals that will support rural schools and communities across the state. Evers is asking for a new teacher retention program that would provide funds for districts that qualify for sparsity aid to use for recruiting and retaining staff. Changes to the Sparsity Aid program are also included to alleviate the fiscal cliff districts face when their enrollment hits the program’s participation cap. New dollars for transportation funding, which disproportionately impacts small districts with long bus routes, are included as well.

“In talking with legislative leaders, the governor, and my fellow agency heads in Wisconsin, I am optimistic that we can work together to ensure every small-town kid has access to a quality education and to improve mental health service to our youth,” said Evers.

Finally, Evers’ budget continues the commitment to summer learning so districts large and small can expand summer programming to give gifted students more opportunities to accelerate their learning and to help struggling students catch up to their peers. The proposal will allow districts to count students enrolled in summer school in a similar fashion to regular school year counts and increase the transportation reimbursement for summer learning.

“Changes to summer school counts and transportation build on the work we began with our administrative rule changes,” said Evers. “Districts are looking to innovate and lead in exciting ways, and I am committed to clearing any administrative hurdles that stand in their way. Summer school programming is moving in exciting directions and is a powerful approach to help all kids reach their full potential.”

In total, the Department of Public Instruction 2017-19 budget request amounts to a $707 million increase in funding over the biennium, not including statutorily constructed increases for all parental choice program and independent charter school payments. Over $500 million of that figure goes toward general school aids to provide property tax relief and to implement the Fair Funding for Our Future finance reform plan. The remaining roughly $200 million is targeted toward programs that directly impact the needs of students.

Evers calls for treating educators with respect ‘and paying them as professionals’

State Superintendent Tony Evers delivers his annual State of Education address in the State Capitol rotunda. Photo by Department of Public Instruction.

State Superintendent Tony Evers delivers his annual State of Education address in the State Capitol rotunda. Photo by Department of Public Instruction.

From the Department of Public Instruction


WEAC President Ron Martin

“The State Superintendent is spot-on in his call for unity around our neighborhood public schools to support diversity, community involvement and educator respect. Educators are already leading the way on these issues and more because our students are counting on us. But success depends on a combined commitment to our students, and that requires state lawmakers to do their part by funding our schools so students have opportunities and educators can afford to stay in the profession.”

In a passionate State of Education address Thursday, grounded in his lifetime service to public education, State Superintendent Tony Evers foreshadowed priorities of the 2017-19 state budget request he will submit to the governor later this fall.

He touched on the importance of

  • providing resources to students that reflect the need to increase equity and close achievement gaps,
  • building the educator workforce so every student has a teacher who is well trained and well compensated, and
  • paying for schools in a way that avoids mounting inequalities.

“When I visit districts large and small, I see some very exciting things,” Evers said. “There is constant innovation and a drive for excellence. Despite our challenges, we are on the leading edge of meaningful education for all kids. From Fort Atkinson where a pond becomes a classroom, to Three Lakes where the community works alongside our young people in a state-of-the-art Fab Lab. From the student portfolios in West Salem and Cudahy, to the top notch career and technical education (CTE) programs in Menomonie and Nekoosa; I could not be prouder of the learning I see.”

He told district administrators earlier in the day that he supports their efforts to innovate to meet the needs of all students. “Our schools are engines of change and creativity, and I will do everything I can to open the doors of innovation and create space for you all to lead this work around our shared efforts to promote excellence for all. That includes exploring ‘Districts of Innovation’ used in Kentucky to address Wisconsin’s achievement gaps,” he said.

Evers reflected on the increased diversity in Wisconsin public school classrooms, sharing from his own experiences. “Growing up as a small-town kid, the first time I met someone who wasn’t white was at a summer job at the canning factory down the road. I think that my story may be similar to many Wisconsinites my age. And while this may seem like a recollection from a bygone era, when I do travel around the state, I’m struck that there are some places where this story could still be true today.”

Evers stressed that equity and efforts to close gaps cannot become a discussion about improving the lives of other people’s children. “If we see this as an issue of one school or district, we all falter. This is about ensuring the prosperity of the next generation of students, no matter their race, no matter if they have a disability, no matter who they love. It’s about all of our kids,” he said.

Evers noted that mental health resources are stretched thin or are non-existent in many parts of the state. He cited a recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention study that showed up to one in five Wisconsin students has a mental health challenge. Additionally, over half of school-aged children face at least one identified form of adversity. “Whether it’s because mom lost her job, parents divorced, or there was an untimely death in the family, it means almost half of our students will need an extra lift to help them achieve their potential,” he said. In his budget, Evers will advance policies to put more services in schools, especially in high need areas, and provide more training of school staff around the areas of mental health first aid, screening, trauma informed care, and brief interventions. Part of the budget request also will include finding ways to co-locate mental health services in schools.

“To promote excellence for every student, we cannot ignore the critical staffing shortages many of our districts face. To put it simply, not enough of our young people are considering careers in education,” Evers said. He recounted his experience as a member of the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents while dining on college campuses. “Not once in eight years have I sat down for lunch next to someone who told me they were pursuing a career in education,” he said. “Data to back up that anecdote shows graduation and enrollment in Wisconsin educator preparation programs is down when compared to 2009 levels. On ACT’s survey of test-takers, fewer students are indicating that education is their preferred field of study.”

To address staffing shortages, Evers adopted emergency rules in August designed to reduce hurdles for districts without sacrificing the quality of the teaching profession. He noted that additional changes will require long-term solutions that address the status and pay of educators. In his budget, he will be seeking additional resources for rural schools to compete on a level playing field for teachers. “But one strategy is free and we can do it today,” he said. “We need to end the negative rhetoric surrounding the teaching profession. Teachers teach because they care about kids. We ought to treat them with respect and pay them as professionals.”

The issue of educator pay is intrinsically linked to how we fund our schools. From 2009 to 2014, Wisconsin ranked near the bottom for change in teacher pay according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a 2.4 percent decrease in take home pay over six years. “When the founders of our state crafted a system of public education, they put great value on the idea of an equitable system,” Evers said. “I believe the public is with us on the need to address funding reform. In the past five years, passage rates for referenda have drastically increased. Today almost 80 percent of questions asked are approved. Citizens are voting to raise their taxes because the state is not pulling its weight. Polling also continues to show that the public favors adding more funding for our schools. But for every eight districts that can pass a referenda in today’s environment, there are two that can’t. That creates a system of haves and have nots—and it is not acceptable.”

He noted that the most recent Wisconsin Supreme Court review of the state’s school finance system found three student groups as key indicators of distress: English language learners, students with disabilities, and students in poverty. Evers plans to include provisions in his 2017-19 budget for minimum aid and weighting of per pupil aid to reflect student needs. He also will ask for more resources for students learning English, reinvestments in special education to counteract a decade of flat funding, and a reform of summer school funding to support learning opportunities that close achievement gaps and increase dual enrollment opportunities for high school students.

Evers ended his State of Education address with a plea. “I want to close by asking something of each and every one of you. It’s not small, and it won’t be easy. We desperately need broad support to achieve excellence for each and every child. We also need people who are willing to be honest; people willing to talk to each other about inequities; people willing to find strength in the diversity that makes Wisconsin, and America, great. I am convinced that if we can speak up together with candor and without fear, solving our problems around school funding and school staffing will come. It will come for every kid in Wisconsin.”

School food service workers play important role in student achievement, Evers says

Public schools in Wisconsin have made food service programs “part and parcel of their academic program and really marry the two in a way that helps students become better achievers and better adults,” State Superintendent Tony Evers says in a video that launches a new campaign from the Department of Public Instruction called “Wisconsin School Meals Rock.” 

In the video, Evers applauds food service workers: “Our food service workers interact with almost every student every day, from kindergarten through 12th grade, and they do a great job of providing good nutritious food but they also connect in a positive way with good adult-kid relationships, and they make or break it with a lot of kids. My hats off to the people who work in food service in Wisconsin. They knock it out of the park!”

The state superintendent’s message was filmed at Plymouth High School, where students can be seen helping themselves to student-grown lettuce and arugula, locally sourced cheese panini, and slow-roasted pork tacos created by the district’s executive chef.

The launch of the Wisconsin School Meals Rock campaign is a fitting observation of National School Breakfast Week which began on Monday.

One of the campaign’s primary goals is to encourage use of innovative, new practices to create school breakfasts and lunches that are not only nutritious but delicious. In doing so, the campaign will feature schools that are trying exciting things with their school meals.

The video can be seen below and found on the new Wisconsin School Meals Rock webpage,