September 20, 2023

Educators Welcome ‘Teaching Is a Profession’ Bills

Educators Welcome ‘Teaching Is a Profession’ Bills Featured Image

WEAC calls bills a step forward

WEAC President Peggy Wirtz-Olsen is welcoming a package of bills circulating in the Legislature that will address massive staffing shortages in Wisconsin’s K-12 schools and restore some respect to the public education employees.

Our union collaborated with elected officials to bring forward  some of the legislative solutions included in WEAC’s platform for solving the educator shortage.

“Teachers, support staff and parents continue to do everything we possibly can so students are successful, supported and safe,” Wirtz-Olsen said. “Ask any educator, in any school district. Our workload has dramatically increased – even before the pandemic and much worse now – as classes are combined, preparation time is eliminated and we are filling in for other grades and courses. Educators have brought forward our solutions to the educator shortage and this legislation shows that some lawmakers are listening.”

This legislative package supports maintaining our education workforce through treating our teachers as professionals once again. It includes establishing a minimum pay threshold to pay educators fairly. The package also creates mandated preparation periods, gives teachers a voice on school boards, lessens the burden of repaying student loans and more.

Some of the bills, part of the Wisconsin legislative Democrats’ Working for Wisconsin: Investing in Our Kids’ Education Initiative, have been introduced in previous legislative sessions.

The package in brief:

  • Set minimum teacher pay tied to legislators’ own pay.
  • Create an hourly wage for student teachers.
  • Establish a non-voting seat for an educator on school boards.
  • Give bonuses to teachers who stay in the same district.
  • Pay teachers for their prep time, like preparing lessons and grading.
  • Pay teachers for time spent on non-classroom activities, like supervising lunch.
  • Give teachers the same health insurance received by Wisconsin legislators.
  • A new grant program for school districts to reimburse the cost of “Grow Your Own” programs.

WEAC has been advocating at the state level for solutions to the staffing shortages developed by frontline educators, with campaigns to contact lawmakers and listening sessions as the workforce crisis mounts. A recent report showed that education degrees declined by nearly 13 percent in Wisconsin after the repeal of collective bargaining rights.

Here’s a look at the proposals and their new Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) numbers:

  • LRB 4208: Establishes a minimum starting salary for public k-12 educators and tiered upgrades dependent on acquiring an advanced degree and years of service. This bill requires a school board to pay a full-time teacher an annual salary in each school year that is not less than the annual salary paid to a state legislator for that school year (base salary). In addition, if a teacher has worked as a teacher for at least 10 school years and has obtained a master’s degree in a related field, the bill requires a school board to pay the teacher an annual salary that is not less than the base salary for the school year plus $15,000. Finally, if a teacher has worked as a teacher for at least 20 school years and has obtained a master’s degree in a related field, the bill requires a school board to pay the teacher an annual salary that is not less than $100,000. AB-1161 (SB 1059)
  • LRB 4209: Public School district employees receive the same health benefits as state legislators. Under the bill, a municipal employer is required to offer a health insurance plan that is offered by the Group Insurance Board to eligible employees of a school district. AB-1154 (SB 1060)
  • LRB 4004: Establishes a continuous $7,000 bonus for educators who are employed within the same school district for five years. Under this bill, the Department of Public Instruction must pay a $7,000 bonus to any teacher who has been licensed by DPI and employed by a school board continuously for five school years. Under the bill, the first school year counted for the longevity bonus payments is the 2022-23 school year, such that DPI will begin making bonus payments in the 2027-28 school year. Teachers are eligible for additional bonus payments for subsequent five-year periods that do not overlap. The bonus is not considered earnings for the purposes of the Wisconsin Retirement System. AB-1155 (SB 1061)
  • LRB 4001: Mandated, self-directed Educator preparation periods. This bill requires each school board to ensure that a teacher’s daily schedule includes preparation time of at least 45 minutes or the equivalent of one class period, whichever is greater. AB-1160 (SB 1056)
  • LRB 4002: Educator duties outside of classroom instruction are voluntary or compensated. This bill prohibits a school board from requiring its teachers to perform any services outside of regular classroom instruction unless the school board either compensates the teacher for his or her time or the teacher volunteers to perform the services. Under current law, a school must provide each teacher a daily duty-free 30-minute lunch period, or the school board may enter into a contract with a teacher for services during the teacher’s lunch period. AB-1159 (SB 1057)
  • LRB 4003: Establishes Educator representation (non-voting) on district school boards. Under this bill, each school board must, in addition to its regular elected members, have one teacher representative who is not a member and does not vote at school board meetings but who is entitled to attend all school board meetings. The bill provides that the teacher representative to a school board must be an employee of the school district who is employed in a teaching role. The teacher representative is selected by the employees of the school district who are employed in teaching roles by secret ballot held no later than the spring election, which is the election at which school board members are elected. The bill directs each school district clerk to establish the timelines and procedures for providing notice of and conducting the secret ballot and for notifying interested persons regarding the result of the secret ballot. The bill provides that a teacher representative takes office on the same date that school board members take office, which is the fourth Monday in April. The regular term of a teacher representative is three years, except that, in a first class city school district (currently, only Milwaukee Public Schools), the term of a teacher representative is four years. AB-1158 (SB 1058)
  • LRB 4210: Established a base pay for student teachers at least $15/hour. Beginning in the 2022-2023 school year, this bill requires a school board to pay each student teacher who student teaches in the school district an hourly wage of at least $15 per hour. The bill also requires the Department of Public Instruction to reimburse school boards for the cost of paying student teachers an hourly wage of $15 per hour. Under the bill, annually on the 3rd Monday in June, DPI must provide aid to school boards in an amount equal to $15 times the total number of hours student teachers student taught in the school district during the preceding school term. AB-1157 (SB 1062)
  • LRB 4211: Grow Your Own Grants from DPI. The bill creates a new grant program administered by the Department of Public Instruction and available to school districts and operators of independent charter schools to reimburse the cost of “Grow Your Own” programs. Under the bill, Grow Your Own programs include high school clubs that encourage careers in teaching, payment of costs associated with current staff acquiring education needed for licensure, support for career pathways using dual enrollment, support for partnerships focused on attracting or developing new teachers, or incentives for paraprofessionals to gain licensure. The bill appropriates $5,000,000 in fiscal year 2024-25 for this purpose.