Walker’s anti-union Act 10 dealing major blow to WI public schools, report finds

Working people from Wisconsin and Minnesota came together in Hudson, Wis., to protest Act 10 in February 2011. (file photo)

A new analysis of Wisconsin’s public schools reveals several alarming trends since the state adopted legislation stripping teachers and other public service workers of most collective bargaining rights in 2011.

“Gov. Scott Walker and Republican elected leaders in Wisconsin said that Act 10 would benefit schools and families alike,” said David Madlan, co-author of the report. “They couldn’t have been more wrong.”

Instead of improving public schools, Act 10 has led to a sharp decline in teachers’ wages and benefits and a troubling uptick in teacher turnover, according to the report.

Madlan and his co-author, Alex Rowell, found that by the 2015-16 school year, the average Wisconsin teacher was earning nearly $11,000 less than before Act 10 passed, when adjusted for inflation.

Unsurprisingly, teachers have been leaving the profession – or finding jobs in other states – at a higher rate since Act 10, and data collected by the state’s Department of Public Instruction shows an influx of less experienced teachers into Wisconsin’s public schools.

“We have seen turnover like we’ve never seen before,” Shelly Moore Krajacic, an English and drama teacher in Ellsworth, Wis., told reporters on a conference call unveiling the report’s findings last week. “It’s difficult for the students and for the teachers to develop teamwork and process.”

Academic research into teacher longevity backs up Moore Krajacic’s experience. “The research is pretty clear that experience and stability of teachers is an important factor in the quality of education a school can provide,” Madlan said.

Commissioned by the nonpartisan Center for American Progress Action Fund, the report serves as a warning to lawmakers in neighboring states considering similar measures.

Last year the Minnesota Legislature moved to weaken teachers’ tenure rights and loosen the licensure process, making it easier for “under-qualified instructors to remain in the classroom for several years in a row,” Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) said.

With the Supreme Court expected to deal a major blow to public-sector unions in a decision on Janus v. AFSCME next year, advocates for public schools worry that what’s happening in Wisconsin could spread to states like Minnesota – and spread quickly – if teachers’ collective voice is weakened.

“Our general approach in Minnesota has been to work with public-sector unions in order to create services that work well for the public, and we think over time that’s paid off,” Mariani said. “We watch with a lot of concern what’s happening in our neighbor state.”

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