MILWAUKEE — The revocation of teacher licenses spiked under state superintendent and Democratic candidate for governor Tony Evers shortly after Republicans accused him of being soft on educators guilty of improper and immoral conduct.
Records show Evers and the agency he runs revoked or negotiated the surrender of the licenses of 12 educators last September, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Thursday. Evers and the state Department of Public Instruction he's headed since 2009 had previously averaged less than one revocation per month.
The increase came after the Republican Party ran a television ad criticizing Evers for not suspending the license of Middleton middle school teacher Andrew Harris for viewing porn on his work computer.
Evers is the front-runner among eight Democrats in the primary race. The election is Aug. 14 with the winner advancing to take on Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Alec Zimmerman said Evers "refused to take action when it was time to protect children, but he moved pretty quickly when his political career was in danger."
But education department spokesman Tom McCarthy said the increase in discipline had nothing to do with politics. McCarthy said the facts of the cases and staffing at the department determine how many cases can be reviewed. Turnover in the past limited how many cases could be examined, McCarthy said.
"Nothing about this process has changed in the wake of Andrew Harris or due to any criticism we received," McCarthy said.
The teachers and principals who lost their licenses in September had sexually assaulted students, criminally neglected children and engaged in "immoral conduct."
Records show Evers and his agency have revoked or negotiated the surrender of teaching licenses with 86 professional educators between July 2009 to the end of 2017.
McCarthy said the number has picked up after Walker signed a bill — supported by Evers — in 2011 that was inspired in part by the Harris case and expanded the type of activity that could warrant license revocation to teachers who use school equipment "to download, view, solicit, seek, display, or distribute pornographic material."
Even so, Evers' agency still revoked the licenses of only two teachers in 2014 and again in 2015. One was caught viewing porn at work. The others had sexually assaulted or enticed children.
In 2016, 25 educators lost their licenses. That increased to 32 last year, including the dozen educators in September, a month after Evers announced his gubernatorial bid and the GOP attacked him on this issue.
In the final three months of 2017, the education department revoked only three licenses.