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Wright Proposes Help for Wisconsin’s Rural School Districts

Tim Morrissey

MADISON, Wis. (WNC) - Before she was a state legislator, Rep. Mandy Wright of Wausau was a teacher, and she serves on the Assembly Education Committee.

Wright has talked to hundreds of educators from the state's rural school districts, and says they've told her there is a significant problem in recruiting and retaining teachers.

"Because of Act 10, we have basically created a free-market society in education, which did not exist before," she explains. "And so, a lot of these schools have fewer financial resources and therefore, cannot financially compensate their teachers in the same way that a larger district can."

Act 10 is the law that essentially abolished public employee unions in the state.

In Wright's view, it has created a new problem, which she says must be addressed to ensure a quality education for all Wisconsin children.

"We're seeing a lot of teachers leaving the profession or just leaving their district in these smaller districts," she points out. "That's true of just regular teachers, but also true of specialty teachers - special education, and ELL (English Language Learners), and librarians, and anything that has a real specialty."

Wright has introduced legislation to create a Rural Teacher Loan Forgiveness program.

It would provide $10,000 worth of student loan paybacks, as a cash incentive that rural school districts could use to attract and retain teachers.

Wright says money from general-purpose state revenue could be used to fund the program.

Wright admits such a plan is only a short-term fix, but she says rural schools are on the cusp of a financial and recruiting crisis.

She says school administrators tell her the Rural Teacher Loan Forgiveness program will work.

"And it's real basic," she stresses. "It's $10,000 of loan forgiveness spread out over five years, four per district that qualifies - and it's up to the discretion of the administration which teachers get that loan forgiveness."