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After Curb on Unions, Wisconsin Teacher Salaries Fell

Teachers in Wisconsin are earning less money and exiting the profession at higher rates than they were before the state restricted unions' collective-bargaining rights, according to a study from a left-leaning think tank. 

In 2011, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker helped push through Act 10, a bill aimed at reducing the state's budget shortfall. Among other things, the law weakened public-sector unions by curbing their ability to negotiate for salaries and benefits

A new report from the Center for American Progress finds that median salaries and benefits for teachers fell 12.6 percent, or about $11,000, between the passage of Act 10 and the 2015-16 school year.

The percentage of teachers leaving the profession saw a sharp increase right after Act 10 passed, the analysis found, going from 6.4 percent in the 2009-10 school year to 10.5 percent in 2010-11. By 2015-16 (the most recent year for which data were available), the exit rate was 8.8 percent.

Wisconsin teachers tend to be less experienced now as well, the study finds. The percentage of teachers with less than five years of experience went from 19.6 percent to 24.1 percent over five years after the law passed. 

The report does not show a definitive causal link between Act 10 and these changes—and it's important to note that the state underwent budget cuts over the same period as well.

However, David Madland, a co-author of the report, said in a media call this week that the "data clearly shows there's a before-and-after change as Act 10 goes into effect." And when compared to other states that also had budget cuts, the salary reductions for teachers in Wisconsin were "more dramatic," he said. 

Another recent study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, indicates that standardized test scores have dropped at low-performing schools in Wisconsin since Act 10 passed—and that analysis does claim there's a causal relationship.

David DeGuire, the director of teacher education, professional development, and licensing for the Wisconsin education department, said in an interview that there was a spike in retirements immediately following the passage of Act 10—in part because teachers were worried they might lose their post-retirement health benefits if they waited too long to leave. 

An upcoming Supreme Court case is likely to further weaken public-sector unions, including teachers' unions, on a national scale. Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 31 will determine whether unions can charge "agency" fees to nonmembers as a way of making up for the cost of collective bargaining. About half of states allow unions to charge these fees (though Wisconsin is not one of them). As it stands, the decision is not likely to go in the unions' favor. 


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