In the state of Wisconsin, where many marched in protest last year to widespread cuts to education and attacks on collective bargaining under Gov. Scott Walker, things aren’t looking so great for teachers.
“We hear from members anywhere from second-year teachers to people with 12 years of teaching experience who are uncertain about where they’re going to be,” Mary Bell, president of the Wisconsin Education Association (WEA), a union that represents teachers in the state, told Raw Story. A number of teachers have told her they’re seeking work in other nearby states like Minnesota, Iowa or Illinois, where there is higher pay and less uncertainty.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (WDPI) reported that 73 percent of school districts in the state cut teachers, and there are nearly 1,500 fewer teaching jobs statewide this year than there were last year. Teachers nationally are part of the more than 600,000 public sector jobs that have been cut since the end of 2008.
Bell is worried about this continued toll on a group she views as extraordinarily important to the future of the state. “Our people chose the profession of education and this situation has introduced an instability into our communities that is damaging,” she said. “It doesn’t serve communities well.”
Additionally, WDPI reported, “The largest cuts statewide were to school librarians and career and technical education, special education, and reading teachers.” Bell Bell said this means that teachers who manage to hang onto their jobs are in an even tougher spot with less help from support staff.
Unfortunately this problem isn’t just restricted to Wisconsin. Though the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act included some $79 billion that was designed to directly fund K-12 education and the continued employment of teachers. Now, Bell said, that money has run out and teachers around the country are feeling the effects.
She wonders what years and years of cuts will mean for the long-term stability of K-12 education. The WEA supports scholarships for future teachers, but “I’d say an unusual number of people who have withdrawn their names from the scholarship.”
Both Bell and Keith Johnson, the president of the Detroit Federation of Teachers, found Republicans’ comments at the convection last week to be disappointing. Though former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called for improving teacher pay, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie got the crowd to roar with the zinger, “[Democrats] believe in teacher’s unions. We believe in teachers.”
Johnson responded, “People are blaming teachers for everything short of an act of god. … Much of the education reform that has been successful has been achieved through collective bargaining with teachers’ unions.”
Though debates over school choice, merit pay and accountability are tense, at the end of the day, more teachers seem to just be looking for a way to make it from one year to the next.
Christy Gill is a 29-year-old teacher who completed a two-year DC Teaching Fellows program starting in 2007, but had the bad luck of getting placed into a middle school that landed the front page of the Washington Post metro section for its high levels of disciplinary problems and violence.
The experience left her burned out, and she wanted to return to her home state of California to continue her career. But as bad as teaching cuts are hitting Wisconsin, they’re even worse in California, where the state’s budget crisis has devastated nearly all sectors of public employees. In 2011, the state slashed $4 billion from the public education system as part of a plan to tackle the state’s $15.4 billion deficit.
After a frustrating round of searching in California — including problems with transferring her teaching credential — Gill packed up and moved back to the D.C. area. She said she has been substitute teaching and looking for a job in Arlington County, but so far, she hasn’t had any luck.
“I’ve [had interviews where I] talked to the second person for at least an hour. I’ve gotten promises,” she told Raw Story, “but there are maybe three jobs for the school year, and I get one interview. School districts are like any industry; they like to hire people they already know.”
“It’s scary, honestly,” she said of the layoffs happening around the country. “It’s scary for job hunters, but it’s scary for children. I still care about our public school system.”
Kay Steiger is the managing editor of Raw Story. Her contributions have appeared in The American Prospect, The Atlantic, Campus Progress, The Guardian, In These Times, Jezebel, Religion Dispatches, RH Reality Check, and others. You can follow her on Twitter @kaysteiger.
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