Wisconsin Lawmakers Consider Loan Forgiveness to Expand Teacher Pool

July 11, 2019 by Elin Johnson

A bill with bipartisan support in the Wisconsin legislature could expand the eligibility for loan forgiveness for participants in a program aimed at growing the number of minority teachers in the state.

Assembly Bill 51 has already received the unanimous support of the state Assembly’s Colleges and Universities Committee whose members endorsed its potential to close the diversity gap in the Wisconsin teaching pool.

And it has now received a first reading by the state Senate’s Committee on Universities, Technical Colleges, Children and Families.

Lawmaker’s previously sought to boost the number of African-American, Native American, Latino and Southeast Asian student teachers in its schools through the state’s Minority Teacher Loan Program, but the program has had few takers in recent years.

The loans, which ranged from $250 to $10,000, are available to undergraduate sophomores, juniors and seniors, but last year, only one student applied.

The Assembly bill is a bid to make the loans more enticing by offering out the possibility that they’ll ultimately be forgiven.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, 95% of teachers are white compared to 69% of school children that are white. 

According to several studies, minority students perform better in classrooms when they have a minority teacher that looks like them. 

African-Americans make up Wisconsin’s largest minority at 10%.

The Wisconsin legislature did not stop with Bill 51 when it came to making changes to the state’s education system.

The state is facing a teacher shortage and a recent study suggested one reason why: Wisconsin teachers are paid about $53,583 annually, which is around $1,000 below the national average.

While state lawmakers did not move to increase teacher salaries, they are trying to make the certification process easier for future teachers. 

One of the bills that passed the Assembly this session would make it easier for teachers with out-of-state licenses to obtain a license in Wisconsin.

Another would do away with the requirement for special education teachers to pass the Foundations of Reading Test, which tests prospective teachers for literacy competence and acquisition. 

Both bills have been referred to the state Senate where their prospects are uncertain.

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