Deborah Kerr (copy)


Deborah Kerr seems to be bent on disqualifying herself from serious consideration for Wisconsin’s top education post.

Kerr, who finished second in last week’s seven-candidate primary for superintendent of the state Department of Public Instruction, is so wrong on the issues that she’s won the endorsement of former Gov. Scott Walker, whose tenure was characterized by attacks on teachers and their unions, destructive cuts to public school funding, schemes to divert taxpayer dollars to private schools and constant sniping at the DPI. Kerr’s bid is funded by out-of-state “mega-donors” such Arthur Dantchik, a super-rich Pennsylvanian who has been meddling in Wisconsin politics for years as part of a national push for expansion of the voucher programs that starve public schools of needed funding. And she keeps getting called out for racial insensitivity.

With that track record, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Kerr’s campaign manager and legal counsel quit immediately after the primary result secured the former Brown Deer schools superintendent a spot on the April ballot in a contest where’s she’ll face Jill Underly, a highly-regarded former education consultant with DPI who now serves as administrator for the Pecatonica Area School District.

The exodus from Kerr’s campaign came as she was making national headlines for her response to a question from Madison Payton, a doctoral candidate in educational policy at New York University who hosts the “Race Through Education” podcast. "When was the first time someone called you the n- word?" asked Payton in a tweet that he told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel “sought to engage with Black and brown people who have experienced trauma from whiteness and white supremacy.”

Kerr, who is white, replied, "I was 16 in high school and white — my lips were bigger than most and that was the reference given to me.” She went on to claim, "It made me realize that we are all different and that is the gift we give to one another."

The blowback was swift. Payton said he was “disappointed that a white person, let alone a candidate for a very important position in education would think that it is appropriate to use her experience in this space made for us.” Madison School Board member Savion Castro described Kerr’s tweet as a "perfect example of white educators' profound failures to understand the isolation, alienation, and disenfranchisement our Black & Brown students experience in our education system.” Legislative aide Nada Elmikashfi observed, “If you’re running for State Superintendent you should understand how problematic this tweet is.”

Instead of engaging in a meaningful way with her critics, Kerr initially blocked people who objected to her tweet and then deleted her account.

It’s not just her embarrassingly tone-deaf approach to racial issues that makes Kerr’s campaign so unsettling. It’s also her cynical approach to the politics of education. She claims to be a “pragmatic Democrat” who voted for Joe Biden last November, but her stances on the issues are so at odds with the stances taken by mainstream Democrats that Walker announced on primary day that he had voted for her.

Kerr has every right to claim whatever political affiliation she likes, just as she is permitted to delete her account in order to avoid criticism. But voters have every right to look at Kerr’s record and delete this candidate on April 6.

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