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Deborah Kerr and Jill Underly advance to spring election in race for state superintendent
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Deborah Kerr and Jill Underly advance to spring election in race for state superintendent

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State superintendent candidates Deborah Kerr and Jill Underly will advance to the spring election which will determine who will be Wisconsin’s next top education official.

Kerr, a Republican-backed candidate who says she is a Democrat, maintained an early lead throughout the evening but was overtaken by Underly, who had the backing of the state’s largest teachers union, with less than 12 percent of precincts left to report.

Underly had received almost 3,000 more votes than Kerr when the race was called by the Associated Press.

Kerr led the group of seven primary candidates in fundraising and spending according to campaign finance reports.

Underly garnered a large number of endorsements from across the state including the recommendation of Wisconsin’s largest teachers union.

“I feel great,” Kerr said in an interview. “We’ve taken one step forward to creating a world-class education system in Wisconsin.”

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“I’m pumped,” Underly said in an interview. “Equity is a big piece of why I ran and I want to set all students (in Wisconsin) up for success.”

Both candidates noted that measures need to be taken to return children to schools safely amid the COVID-19 pandemic and both plan to advocate for support from the Biden administration to do so if they win the April 6 election.

As polls closed Tuesday night in Wisconsin, election clerks once again turned to the task of processing ballots — although with just one statewide race and a smattering of local contests on the ballot, the spring primary was a decidedly more low-key affair than the last election.

Unlike the Nov. 3 election, when the presidential race and congressional and state legislative races were on the ballot, the only statewide race this time pitted one Republican-backed candidate against six others with more Democratic support in the officially nonpartisan contest to be the state’s K-12 education leader.

Also seeking election to the position were assistant state superintendent Sheila Briggs who came in third; Shandowlyon Hendricks-Williams, a former employee at the state education department who came in fourth; Troy Gunderson, Viterbo University professor and former superintendent of the School District of West Salem who came in fifth; Steve Krull, principal of Milwaukee’s Garland Elementary School and former Air Force instructor who came in sixth; and Joe Fenrick, a Fond du Lac high school science teacher who came in seventh.

“I’m very optimistic,” Hendricks-Williams said. “I’m sad of course to report that the results were not enough to get us to the primary but I’m grateful for the support my campaign received, to my family and friends who stood by me and I’m grateful to God knowing he has a plan for all of us.”The superintendent position oversees the Department of Public Instruction, which has broad powers managing the state’s public school system. That includes setting priorities and a two-year budget request, managing a variety of education programs statewide.

The seat is open for the first time in over a decade after Gov. Tony Evers, who won statewide elections to head the agency for three consecutive four-year terms, assumed Wisconsin’s highest office. Current state Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor was appointed by Evers in January 2019 after he won the 2018 governor’s race. She did not seek election this year.

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