By LaKeshia Myers
This week has been a very good week for education in Wisconsin. Gov. Tony Evers signed three pertinent pieces of legislation that are sure to pave the way for our state’s future as we continue to shed our rustbelt image. The first, Assembly Bill 51, now Wisconsin Act 35 modifies the eligibility criteria for the Minority Teacher Loan program (MTLP).
The Minority Teacher Loan Program was designed to encourage students of color to enter the teaching profession by offering a forgivable loan to eligible sophomores, juniors, and senior education majors that attend Wisconsin colleges. In exchange for service as a certified classroom teacher in a Wisconsin schools district, a portion of the student’s debt will be forgiven. The updated MTLP (Act 35) now allows a loan recipient to be eligible if they are employed by a public school, private school or tribal school that is located in a Wisconsin school district where at least 40 percent of the students are minority students; and expands the definition of a “minority student” to be more inclusive of ethnic minority groups.
The second, Assembly Bill 194, now Act 44, created an alternative pathway to initial licensure as a Special Education teacher. Prior to this, to earn licensure as a special educator required passage of the Foundations of Reading Test (FORT). While well-intentioned, the FORT test has served as a crucial barrier for educators seeking Special Education licensure. Issues with racial bias, test comprehension, and subjective scoring have plagued many who have attempted to become educators of our most vulnerable student population.
This mandate has also forced many teacher candidates to incur serious debt (the test costs $135 for each attempt) and hurt school districts, as they are forced to relieve teachers of their duties, for no other reason than a standardized test. Act 44 now requires individuals who meet all other licensing requirements to successfully complete a course of study that provides rigorous instruction in teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, reading comprehension and fluency. Through this process students will receive feedback and coaching from an expert in reading instruction, and provide a portfolio of work that demonstrates their competence.
The third bill signed by the Governor on last Thursday, was Assembly Bill 195, now 2019 Wisconsin Act 43. This action makes any teaching licenses based on reciprocity Tier II licenses, and allows them to become Tier III lifetime licenses after the completion of six semesters (three academic years) of teaching experience. The act also allows a teacher to receive a license based on reciprocity if they have successfully taught for two semesters under a department-issued license or permit at a public, private, or charter school.
This was a crucial piece of legislation that will aid Wisconsin in attracting and retaining teachers who were educated out of state. We have thousands of young Wisconsinites who choose to attend college out of state, prior to Act 43, they had no recourse but to apply for a renewable five-year license which did not grant them the ability to earn a lifetime license. By changing the license based on reciprocity to a Tier II license, Wisconsin can now be competitive and recruit teachers to meet the needs of our classrooms.
These three bills being signed into law place Wisconsin on the right track. With a continued investment in education, I am confident that we on our way to a great future.