MADISON, Wis. - Just days into the new school year, many Wisconsin districts are already dealing with a serious shortage of substitute teachers. It's one symptom of schools at a tipping point, with fewer people entering and staying in the teaching profession - says Christina Brey, public affairs director with the Wisconsin Education Association Council.
Brey says one of the main reasons is low pay, and when it comes to finding qualified substitutes, some areas are hit harder than others. "It's expressly a huge problem in lower-population areas in Wisconsin's rural, very impoverished small towns," says Brey.
One national report indicates half of all schools and 90% of high-poverty schools struggle to find qualified special education teachers. Brey contends districts should focus on paying teachers more. As she put it, "That's a lot of money that would be better used on raising teacher pay overall throughout the state, and providing our students with a stable teaching force."
Brey says relying too heavily on substitutes means a "churn" of different people entering and leaving a single classroom, and can disrupt kids' learning. She adds low teacher pay creates more turnover - which, in turn, creates more need for substitutes when a district can't fill its openings. But the competition for "subs" has some school districts offering bonuses and other perks.
The average paycheck for Wisconsin teachers ranks 33rd among the states, at $55,000 dollars a year. Finally, the University of Wisconsin at Madison School of Education reports the number of students enrolling to become teachers is down 35% nationally, with some Wisconsin programs seeing even steeper enrollment declines.