Gov. Scott Walker's brand of less-is-more governance is having unintended consequences in the classrooms of podunk Wisconsin.
The latest repercussion could very well be having high school dropouts, who haven't even undergone a criminal background check, teaching in the state's public schools.
Under the GOP politician's leadership, Wisconsin public schools' budgets have been whacked over the past four years.
Earlier in his second term, Walker enacted the biggest cuts to education in state history. They included a $792 million funding hit to kindergarten-through-12th grade schools.
Now Walker, considered to be a leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has proposed another $127 million cut. Per-pupil spending in Wisconsin is already lower today than it was in 2010.
Walker's cuts have put an especially big hurt on rural school districts.
"As a result of these budget cuts, what we've seen is schools sometimes reducing full-time teaching positions to part-time," says Jerry Fiene, executive director of the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group. "This, on top of the fact that it was already often difficult to attract qualified teachers into some of these areas."
Incentive packages being offered to teachers have gotten pinched as well.
"Starting in 2011, for example," says Wisconsin Department of Public Information spokesman Mike Johnson, "teachers in many districts have seen their contribution to their health insurance go up dramatically. As a result, what districts can offer to attract qualified teachers has been affected by these decreases in funding."
Taken together, it's resulted in a perfect storm for Wisconsin schools.
Now, add to it a weakening of teacher licensing rules.
In a measure deemed "breathtaking in its stupidity" by State Superintendent Tony Evers, Mary Czaja, a Republican lawmaker from Tomahawk, proposed a rule change that would allow high school dropouts to be licensed to teach in public schools.
It would also put a time limit of 15 days for districts to do background checks.
Any person with relevant experience — even a high school dropout — could be licensed to teach any subject outside of English, math, social studies, or science in grades six through 12.
Czaja says she penciled the teacher certification provision into the budget to help rural schools staff hard-to-fill positions in non-core subjects
Fiene says his group has asked for a modification of licensing requirements, like allowing an already college-credentialed, licensed educator in one subject to shift into another.
Fiene admits he was blown away by Czaja's sweeping rule changes.
"This proposal takes us way beyond what we think is prudent and in the best interests of students," he says. "It actually totally destroys the licensing requirements for teachers here and puts Wisconsin at the bottom of all states."
Superintendent Evers echoed this when he told Wisconsin Public Television that the policy would drop the state's teacher standards to the lowest in the country.
Opponents of the proposed rule changes have little time to spare. They have about three weeks to squash or at least limit the extent of Czaja's proposal before it goes before the entire legislature.
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