The latest plan to ease Wisconsin’s teacher shortages focuses on student teachers. 

Gov. Tony Evers on Tuesday signed a new law that allows the state’s Department of Public Instruction to recognize non-traditional teacher-prep programs. 

“Prior to [the new law], education candidates were required to complete student teaching that consisted of full days for a full semester [18 weeks] at a cooperating elementary or secondary school,” Rep. LaKeshia Myers, D-Milwaukee, explained.

“The law did not make any exception for paraprofessionals or other non-teaching classroom-based staff to utilize their hours of employment to fulfill the student teaching requirement unless they were in unpaid status.”

In other words, Myers said the state of Wisconsin didn’t make it easy for prospective teachers to get into a classroom unless they went straight from high school to college, then straight back into a school to teach. 

“The education landscape has changed dramatically in the last 30 years; fewer individuals are entering the classroom directly from college, but are starting later in life,” Myers said. “This law recognizes this reality and adjusts our state statutes to accommodate this trend.”

Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah, helped get the proposal through the legislature. He said the new law should help fill a need in Wisconsin’s public schools.

“Wisconsin is facing a teaching shortage, and [this law] helps individuals who are interested in becoming teachers but are unable to accommodate the current student-teaching requirements,” Rohrkaste said. “This will hopefully remove a significant obstacle to entering the teaching profession.”

There are no hard numbers about how many schools in Wisconsin are having trouble finding teachers. But the state’s Department of Public Instruction said it issued 2,432 Emergency Teacher certifications two years ago. And numbers from the UW System show a nearly 40 percent drop in the number of people who are going to school to be teachers. 

Myers said opening the door to more potential teachers will help fight the state’s teacher shortage. 

“This not only will aid us in making sure we have qualified professionals in every classroom, but ensures that we will attract a more diverse applicant pool to our profession,” Myers said. 

Benjamin Yount reports on Illinois and Wisconsin statewide issues for The Center Square. Reposted with permission.