Five years ago, Gov. Scott Walker reinvented the Wisconsin public workforce system with Act 10, which took collective bargaining power from state employees, and the state’s public school districts aren’t looking great today.
In 2011, thousands of protesters rolled up to Capitol Square, figuratively pounding on Walker’s door in attempt to stop the bill that would strip all public employees of their union rights, including teachers in public school districts.
And maybe we should have listened.
Full disclosure, both of my parents work for the state Department of Transportation as civil engineers so I got to experience the impact of the Act 10 effects first hand. My parents took their cuts just as all state employees did. They weren’t thrilled about it, but c’est la vie, life carries on.
When it comes to public school districts, however, things seem to have turned out differently.
Apparently, the crater Act 10 left on schools is the fact that the current lack of collective bargaining has brought an end to the incentive and stability of staying within one school district for the entirety of a teacher’s career.
And as a result of new-found ease of employment mobility, a sort of free-agency culture has arisen in the ashes of collective bargaining, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dave Umhoefer.
So thanks to our old buddy Walker, we now have a public education system where individual teachers are the commodity. And just as with any capitalistic economy, the teachers of the highest caliber cost the most money.
Sure, I’m honestly a fan of the idea that the best teachers should be rewarded for their good work, but the fact of the matter is that teachers aren’t simply a one-dimensional good.
The thing about teachers is that the difference between good teachers and bad teachers in the impact on kids in kindergarten through senior year of high school is tremendous.
If these kids are being taught by someone who can communicate well with them and is passionate about their learning, then chances are these children are going to enjoy going to school and are going to enjoy learning. And, it’s not too unreasonable to think that a tyke who likes j-chillin’ in the classroom is going to inherently make the most of his education in his or her genuine pursuit of general knowledge.
But, this highest-bidder-wins culture Act 10 has created gives a substantial disadvantage to school districts in less well-off areas for securing quality teachers.
Ideally, individual schools within the state of Wisconsin’s public school system should all really be able to provide similarly high quality educations. Sure, each school is always going to vary from the next due to different populations, resources or whatever, but we should really be trying to make these advantages and disadvantages as small as possible.
In Act 10’s creation of this free-agency culture, the education quality gap has magnified because the low money districts can’t afford to be able to buy the high quality teachers every student deserves.
This is the real issue with Act 10. Yes, public employees took a hit, but it’s the students of Wisconsin’s public school district who have ultimately faced the wrath of Act 10.
The students of less-wealthy school districts have been cheated out their right to good teachers simply because of their demographics, and this lack of a good education can only further increase the educational gap between wealthy and poor districts as students won’t invest in their hometown school after graduation because it really didn’t help them that much anyway.
But unless Act 10 is retired, I guess we’ll just have to check the damages again in another five years.
Phil Michaelson ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in biomedical engineering.