Western Wisconsin among areas facing teacher shortfall

Posted March 1, 2017

Wisconsin is facing historically low numbers of teachers in the public school system, while the number of college students pursuing degrees in teacher education programs also is down.

“Addressing these shortages, while attracting, developing, and retaining top talent, is one of the most critical policy issues facing our state,” according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

The teacher shortage issue has become more relevant in public schools in western Wisconsin because of their proximity to Minnesota. Some teachers are taking their talents across the border. River Falls High School has lost six employees to Minnesota schools, said Principal Kit Luedtke. Salaries for teachers may be $10,000 to $20,000 higher in Minnesota compared to Wisconsin, according to Luedtke.

“Numbers of applicants have gone down, I would say, since Act 10 for sure,” said Luedtke, referring to the 2011 Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill. “I think they were statistically even going down years prior to that.”

Michael Harris, dean of the UW-River Falls College of Education and Professional Studies, said the number of applicants for positions at UWRF doesn’t follow a specific trend.

“At the university level, it really depends on the discipline itself. There are certain disciplines that have shortages of Ph.D. candidates and others that don’t,” said Harris.

Act 10 was legislation proposed in 2011 by Gov. Scott Walker that dismantled collective bargaining and reduced state aid to local school districts. Although Act 10 is not the only reason for the teacher shortfall in Wisconsin, the cuts have been at the forefront of many discussions in schools.

“The funding model that we have does not allow us to professionally compensate teaching staff at a rate of inflation that keeps up with the rest of the pace of the economy,” said Luedtke. “I would argue, in some cases, education teaching has turned in more into a secondary profession, as opposed to a primary profession where somebody can earn and raise a family on.”

Luedtke cited the cost of school outweighing the salaries of teaching positions in Wisconsin, which affects the number of college students pursuing a career in education.

Although the numbers of students in education are generally declining, Harris said UWRF isn’t dealing with a sharp decrease.

“We’re actually holding pretty steady,” said Harris. “Right after Act 10, we had a dip. But we’ve stabilized again. We’re pleased with that right now compared to some other universities.”

Harris said he believes Act 10 demoralized and tarnished the position of teacher, and it has tainted the education system in Wisconsin even further. However, he does see a turnaround.

“I think it is happening (teachers getting more respect). Teachers teach because they love to teach,” said Harris.

Currently, the Wisconsin state budget isn’t handing out any favors to the education system, however, the governor’s new budget proposal would put more money back into education. If the proposal were to pass, it could provide a $200 dollar increase in state per public school student.