Wisconsin public schools saw a decrease of nearly 3,000 teachers in a period of nine years ending in the 2012-2013 school year, according to a report released Tuesday. Over a similar time period, an increase in enrollment led to higher student-teacher ratios.
According to a Wisconsin Budget Project report, 57,600 full-time teachers were employed by Wisconsin public schools during the 2012-2013 school year compared to 60,500 in 2004-2005. That reduction has resulted in an increase of crowded classrooms and less individualized attention for students, the report argued.
The decline in the number of state teachers began before changes to collective bargaining rights were approved by state lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker in 2011.
“This [decline in teachers] is something that’s been going on for a long time, it’s a longer term issue,” said Tamarine Cornelius, an analyst at the Wisconsin Budget Project. “There has been a slow and steady squeeze on public schools in Wisconsin. Stemming from both the amount of money that the state is providing to public schools and the amount that the state is allowing local districts to tax."
That teacher decline has led to a higher student-to-teacher ratio throughout the state. With less teachers and higher student enrollment, students are forced to learn in overcrowded classrooms, the report says. In the 2004-2005 school year, Wisconsin had 14.3 students per teacher while in 2012-2013, the number rose to 15.2 students. This increase was nearly five times as large as the increase nationally during this period.
Public schools are also investing less in students. Although schools still spend more money per student than the national average, that amount has dropped dramatically. Wisconsin schools spent 12 percent more per student than the national average in 2005, ranking them at the 13th highest among the states. By 2013, the ranking had dropped to 21st, with Wisconsin schools spending 3.5 percent above the national average.
Since the passing of Act 10 in 2011, school districts across the state have been faced with hiring teachers with less classroom experience. In the 2013-2014 school year, teachers in 39 percent of school districts in Wisconsin had an average of 15 or more years of teaching experience, compared to the 2004-2005 year when 58 percent of school districts had teachers with an average of 15 years or more experience.
“Wisconsin needs a well-educated workforce if we want to succeed economically,” said Cornelius in a press release. “But schools in Wisconsin have less money than before, fewer teachers overall, and fewer experienced teachers. That makes it harder for today’s students to get the kind of high-quality public education that Wisconsin families have come to expect, and that Wisconsin needs in order to build a solid economy for the future.”
In the Madison Metropolitan School District, teachers had an average of 13 years of teaching experience for the 2013-2014 school year and an average of 11 years of local teaching experience. And while other state school districts have seen a decrease in teachers, MMSD has increased its teaching staff. Information released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction shows MMSD’s full time equivalence (FTE) for teaching staff rose by 14 percent over the last six years.