In Wisconsin, all eyes have been on the state budget and the question of what Gov. Tony Evers will do with Republicans’ version of the two-year spending plan.
But that’s not the only work happening in the Capitol. Last week, the Assembly advanced a handful of bills that would impact schools and teachers.
One of the bills addresses Wisconsin’s teacher diversity problem. Ninety-five percent of teachers in the state are white, compared to 70% of K-12 students. Research shows students of color are more successful if they have at least one teacher who looks like them.
This bill would expand a minority teacher loan forgiveness program administered by the state. Right now, the program is limited to teachers in Milwaukee schools. Teachers working in high demand areas who are rated effective can get 25% of their loans forgiven each year.
Under the bill, teachers of color in districts with at least 40% minority students would qualify. Republican Rep. Amy Loudenbeck sponsored the legislation.
“I’m not a minority. I’m a white woman from Rock County and I represent schools that are majority-minority,” Loudenbeck said. "So, I'm looking at this bill and thinking, ‘Wow, I have school districts that could benefit from something like this.’ "
The proposal garnered unanimous bipartisan support in the Assembly.
The Assembly passed two other bills aimed at addressing teacher shortages. One would make it easier for teachers with out-of-state licenses to get licensed in Wisconsin. Milwaukee Democrat LaKeshia Myers, a former MPS teacher, said she faced roadblocks to licensure.
“I think that our current law is a barrier to us attracting and retaining qualified personnel that can be in our classrooms to teach our children,” Myers said.
Another bill with similar goals faced more opposition, though it still passed an Assembly vote. This bill would take away the requirement for special education teachers to pass the FORT, or Foundations of Reading test.
In an effort to improve student reading scores, the FORT became mandatory for elementary and special education teachers in 2014. The exam measures a prospective teacher’s understanding of literacy acquisition.
Democrat Chris Taylor, a representative from Madison, acknowledged that schools are struggling to find special education teachers.
“But the answer is not to roll back basic competency when it comes to reading,” Taylor said.
GOP Travis Tranel, a representative from Cuba City, defended the bill. He said special education teachers would still have to prove their literacy skills.
“Instead of taking the FORT test and passing the test, you have to take a course that teaches you the exact same thing,” Tranel said.
The Assembly advanced a bill that would create a dyslexia guidebook for school districts. Dyslexia is a common reading disorder, but many families struggle to get their children the help they need in school. They say the guidebook could be a "first step" to address the issue.
Democratic representatives were split on the bill, with half voting against it. Republican support was unanimous, which carried it through the Assembly. We’ll delve more into the disagreement about the dyslexia bill in a future story.
The legislation now goes to the Senate and if approved, on to Gov. Tony Evers.
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