April 11, 2024

Collective Bargaining and Fair Pay are the Paths to Retaining Educators

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A new report confirms that compensation for public school educators in Wisconsin has decreased nearly 20 percent since 2010, and that educators continue to leave the state’s workforce at an alarming rate.

WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen, noting that she travels throughout the state nearly every day talking to educators, says the reasons the state struggles with teacher and education-employee retention are no mystery.

“The problem isn’t a sudden shortage of educators,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “The number of educators leaving the profession due to unrealistic workloads, low pay, rampant anti-teacher rhetoric, and a lack of input in school decisions is deeply alarming. That’s what’s driving great educators out of the profession. Many teachers have taken on second jobs, like driving for Uber or working in restaurants, to make up for low pay. The educator crisis causes disruption for students and puts additional stress on those who remain in the profession.”

Wirtz-Olsen said the way to fix the educator-retention crisis is just as obvious.

“There is a solution. It’s not complicated if everyone agrees it’s important for students to have the best education delivered by the best educators possible. It’s not complicated if everyone can agree that students thrive with stability and opportunity in their lives,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “Our solution to the staffing crisis will keep teachers and education support professionals in our public schools. In short: Raise teacher pay. Address crushing workloads. Restore our right to negotiate with our employers.

“Without these critical fixes, the exodus of teachers will continue. Educators like me have been crystal clear for over a decade about what it will take to keep us in the profession but lawmakers, and sometimes our administrators, refuse to listen. Year after year, some state politicians have shirked their responsibility to fund local public schools and instead funnel money meant for them to unaccountable private vouchers. Year after year, some politicians have given lip service to educators while at the same time freezing funding. Some politicians have even applauded themselves, claiming to increase funding – when in fact state funding isn’t even close to keeping up with inflation.”

Supporting educators so they can support their students is at the core of WEAC’s mission. The union’s multi-pronged approach to improving life for its members and the state’s children includes communicating regularly and through various channels with the governor’s office and all elected officials who are willing to listen. WEAC’s leaders and members advocate for a sweeping approach across all grade levels and subject areas, and one that addresses the need for students to have educators who look like them. WEAC’s Fair Pay Now program approaches the crises facing educators and public schools from many angles, and includes a series of workshops focused on negotiating under Wisconsin’s restrictive public-employee bargaining laws.

The latest data on the crisis in educator compensation and retention comes from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction’s Educator Preparation Program and Workforce Analysis Report released on April 11, 2024. The report analyzes data from the 2021-22 school year.

“Wisconsin values honesty, decency and great public schools,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “It’s time to get back to basics. Fair pay. Respect for the professionals who teach the children. And support that is designed to keep licensed teachers and support staff on the job.”