The University of Wisconsin’s Teacher Pledge received a $5 million gift  Tuesday to extend the program and continue addressing the teacher shortage in Wisconsin.

The Teacher Pledge is fully funded by donors, whose money is used to pay the equivalent of in-state tuition and fees, testing and licensing costs for students registered in one of the UW School of Education’s teacher preparation programs.

Thanks to Susan and James Patterson’s donation of $5 million, the School of Education’s Dean Diana Hess was able to extend the program through the 2026-27 school year, according to UW News.

The Teacher Pledge began in August 2020 and is open to all undergraduate and graduate students that are accepted into one of UW’s teacher education programs, UW School of Education Associate Dean for Teacher Education Tom Owenby said.

This initiative is aimed at offering solutions for the teacher shortage in Wisconsin. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction issued 3,197 emergency teacher licenses in the 2021-22 academic year, almost three times the amount of emergency licenses issued in the 2012-13 school year, according to UW News.

“This is a marker of a teacher shortage because it in most cases means that districts aren’t able to fill those jobs with someone who has the proper certification and training,” Owenby said. “Our hope is that with providing this financial support, we can help to address that shortage.”

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The program funds students through schooling with the agreement that they pledge to teach for three or four years in the Wisconsin school system within a five year period after graduating, Owenby said. Since the program’s start in the fall of 2020, over 550 students have taken the pledge and 226 pledge alumni are educating in classrooms covering 65 various Wisconsin public school districts and 11 private schools, according to UW News.

UW senior Trixie Cataggatan, who is part of the Teacher Pledge, is pursuing certification in elementary education and English as a second language.

“I cannot be more grateful to be a part of a program at UW-Madison that supports and values the success of future educators across Wisconsin,” Cataggatan said in an email statement to The Badger Herald. “Donors of the Teacher Pledge who invest in this program see the importance of having teachers in classrooms who can make a significant impact on their students’ lives.”

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Though the Teacher Pledge is still a fairly new program, the hope is to continue improving and motivating students to become educators while also addressing Wisconsin’s teacher shortage.

UW is also researching the program itself through the SSTAR lab on campus, a research unit that is part of the Office of Financial Aid. Collecting data from surveys, focus groups and interviews with students, the research gathered will help the university refine the program and learn what impacts it has, Owenby said.

“I think that a key part of the program is really to be able to support alumni,” Owenby said. “A key element of this is both us getting more folks into the teaching pipeline, but also supporting them to remain in teaching.”

While this program will not solve the teacher shortage on its own, the hope is that it incentivizes more students to teach and join the university’s education programs. In this extended time, the university will continue improving this program, Owenby said.

“We’re just extremely excited to be able to announce this extension of the teacher pledge, and we’re hopeful to continue fundraising for it so that we can continue to extend it further from this point,” Owenby said.