UW-Madison addresses teacher shortage with ‘pledge’ to fund future educators

One program at UW-Madison is telling future teachers this: We pledge to pay, and you pledge to stay.
Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 6:39 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - One program at UW-Madison is telling future teachers this: We pledge to pay, and you pledge to stay.

That’s how Dean Diana Hess at the School of Education sums up the Teacher Pledge Program, now getting an extension until the 2026-2027 school year. Beginning in 2020, private dollars have paid for students’ in-state tuition, fees, testing and licensing costs. In turn, graduates have to teach a few years in Wisconsin.

The announcement comes amid a years-long teacher shortage affecting areas across the nation.

“I don’t think it’s going to be a short-term solution because I don’t think we can have a short term solution to a problem that is as significant as the teacher shortage,” Hess said. “That being said, what we’re hoping is that the research that we’re doing about the teacher pledge will teach us whether it’s working or not, and if so, why? And then at some point, we hope that the state would pick [it] up.”

A report released this month by the Wisconsin Policy Forum offers another picture of the ongoing problem in the state. Researchers found that emergency teaching licenses roughly tripled in a decade. They’re also known as licenses with stipulations, and the Department of Public Instruction explains they’ve been around before current staffing challenges. When school districts struggle to find a teacher licensed by the state, they can hire someone who’s unlicensed but has applied for an emergency license.

In 2022, DPI issued 3,197 emergency licenses to teach in Wisconsin.

Researchers wrote their findings suggest schools are facing increasing challenges from staff shortages and high turnover in areas like special education.

Lead author Don Cramer said, “Also we looked at how many teachers were reapplying year after year for an emergency license, which sort of shows us that this isn’t just a quick... someone needs one requirement or there’s just a shortage in a school district for one thing or a need for one thing. But it might be that people are using this program to work while they’re getting their full license.”

To date, the Teacher Pledge Program has raised $26 million in private donations, Hess said. Part of that has helped Maddy Rauls land her job as a fourth grade teacher in Waunakee.

“Nobody goes into the teaching profession because they’re going to make a ton of money,” Rauls said. “People go into it because they love working with kids. They love the job. And that’s really the case for me, but I think relieving that financial burden, especially as tuition costs continue to go up for college education, decreasing that barrier is huge.”

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