Fewer teachers pursue higher education

LA CROSSE, Wis. -- It's been more than a year since legislation was passed in Wisconsin that took away most collective bargaining rights for teachers.

And the impact is being felt in more areas than just school budgets.

Under the old teacher union contracts, higher education equaled higher pay.

It made pursuing a Master of Education degree very attractive for teachers because it guaranteed a pay raise.

But now that most collective bargaining rights are gone, that pay raise is no longer a sure thing, and grad programs in the state are feeling the impact.

Pat Markos, Director of the Institute for Professional Studies in Education at UW-La Crosse, said enrollment numbers for grad programs in education are taking a big hit.


"A year ago at this time, we had 150 students in our program. We have about 68 now. So you can see there's been a significant impact from what's going on in the state in terms of collective bargaining and the new development of handbooks," said Markos.

Under the old collective bargaining rights, teachers were guaranteed a pay raise for pursuing higher education, like a master's degree. Now, it's all decided by each district's employee handbook.

"They have security with their handbooks. The handbooks are saying they'll still honor master's degrees and payment and movement on the pay scale for a year. But I think there's uncertainty for teachers about whether or not that's going to continue," said Markos.

Holmen teacher Jordan Wood earned his master's degree before the collective bargaining laws were put in place and said he hopes his school district will continue to honor his advanced education.

"I'm hopeful. This year, we were allowed to progress on the pay scale. I've continued to take classes in hopes that we'll continue to do that. I don't know if I will always continue to take classes. It's not tied to my licensure," said Wood.

Wood said without a guarantee for higher pay, some teachers just can't afford it.

"There's younger teachers that that is a professional goal of theirs. They want to earn that master's degree, and in order to do that they have to pay for credits, and they hope they can continue to earn more money in order to do that, and not knowing how things will work, they have held off," said Wood.

Markos said a lack of incentive for teachers to improve their skills could have a negative impact on students.

"If districts are no longer going to reward or compensate for more credits or professional development or master's degrees, I wonder what our test scores are going to look like in a year or two. That's a concern for me," said Markos.

Most of the school administrators at districts in the La Crosse area say they will continue to pay teachers with higher education more.

School administrators from Onalaska, Holmen, Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau, La Crosse, Viroqua and Westby all say they plan to honor the pay raise system.

Viterbo University doesn't have exact numbers but says its Master of Education program enrollment has also seen a big decrease.

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