A Guest Editorial from State Representative LaKeishia N. Myers

Rep LaKeisha Myers

State Rep. LaKeisha Myers

The Referendum Was the Tip of the Iceberg: Why You Need to Care about the Teacher Shortage

During the April 2024 election, 103 school districts posed referendum questions to voters.  Plainly put, school districts asked voters to pay more money to support schools; although they have already paid property taxes (the current funding mechanism for school funding).  To date, only sixty percent of those referendums were successful. This should be a wake-up call to districts as well as the Wisconsin state legislature. For districts, they should understand that the property tax well has run dry on tax increases to homeowners (and renters alike, as they experience rent increases to cover higher costs).  For the state legislature, it should signal that the “jig is up” — that is, the public realizes they have been back-filling the state’s schools due to the legislature not meeting their two-thirds mandate since 2004.

Also of note is the decreasing number of teacher education candidates. Last week State Superintendent Dr. Jill Underly released a report that details the state’s Educator Preparation Programs (EPP) produced a little over 5,000 licensed teachers in 2021-22.  Of those licensed, only 3,400 were employed in the state of Wisconsin. The report also showed teacher compensation has decreased since 2010. Of significant concern are the number of universities that have closed or downsized their Colleges of Education. In my opinion, we are beyond “crisis mode” — we are already at DEFCON 1.

The general public needs to pay attention; education is (and has been) a political frontier that has been largely ignored with the exception of issues like school choice and book bans. While we were busy arguing over what type of schools to fund and dredging up decades-old arguments, the GOP-controlled legislature was busy underfunding education. And all the while, our schools began to crumble, books became outdated, classes grew larger, teachers grew more burnt out, and student academic deficiencies became more prevalent.

Referenda are Band-Aid’s; eventually, they must be removed and the scab has to be exposed.  From my vantage point, a sixty percent referendum passage rate is a message that we can’t “tax our way out of this.”  School districts need to examine their operating procedures, academic calendars, schedules, building usage, and budgets. Legislators need to stop holding professional standards hostage — all teachers should have continuing education criteria tied to license retention; retired educators should be allowed to be rehired without restriction; there should be a teaching

apprenticeship option to offset the costs of obtaining a teaching degree. From what I can tell, there may be some districts that end up merging or closing altogether — public and private; rural and urban — as the needs mirror each other. No district is seemingly “safe.”

I am asking (hoping and praying) that the spring election was a wake-up call for all Wisconsinites to become active and engaged in the school funding process. Pay attention to whom you elect to school boards and the state legislature. Be sure your representatives and senators have your community’s best interest at heart and not just a title or perceived power. How we engage in the next state budget process will be vital to the quality of education and the teaching profession as a whole. The education landscape in Wisconsin has moved beyond the debate of choice versus public; we must discuss investments and outcomes. The future of our state depends on it.