Southwestern Wisconsin Elementary School

Nicole Pollock, an early childhood special education teacher at Southwestern Wisconsin Elementary School, works with Briar Fecht, 3, at the school Thursday in Hazel Green, Wis.

HAZEL GREEN, Wis. — New state data shows that Wisconsin school districts are hiring more instructors who lack teaching licenses in the field in which they are teaching — or at all.

Experts say the trend highlights an increasing struggle to locate educators, as fewer high school graduates enter the field and seasoned instructors retire.

“Districts cannot find enough fully licensed people for the positions that they have,” said David DeGuire, director of teacher education, professional development and licensing at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. “We just clearly have fewer people that are going into teacher preparation programs.”

A 2016 report from the Learning Policy Institute found that from 2009 to 2014, enrollment in teacher education programs decreased by 35% — from 691,000 to 451,000 each year. And demand has increased — from 260,000 hires in 2014 to about 300,000 in subsequent years.

The DPI can issue a temporary license, known as a license with stipulations, that permits those who hold a bachelor’s degree in a subject outside of education to teach. It also permits licensed educators who are teaching a different subject to teach while they obtain the necessary credentials.

“When we look at the trend data at workforce development across all professions, all of our workforce faces shortages,” said Jamie Nutter, administrator of CESA 3, an agency that provides professional development services to 31 school districts throughout southwest Wisconsin.

The CESA 3 region saw a 191% increase in the issuance of temporary licenses from 33 in 2012-13 to 96 in 2018-19, exceeding the statewide increase of 180%.

The majority are issued in high-demand fields such as special education. CESA 3 saw an increase from eight licenses issued in 2012-13 to 33 in 2018-19.

FLEXIBLE OPTION

Before the DPI will issue the license with stipulations, school districts must confirm they searched for a fully licensed teacher but were unsuccessful in locating a candidate.

In the Southwestern Wisconsin Community School District, the DPI issued no temporary licenses in 2012-13, while it issued two in 2018-19.

Nicole Pollock, a first-year teacher in the district’s early childhood special education program, is obtaining a necessary teaching certificate while she teaches under a temporary license.

She must do so by 2022 and currently is taking classes through an online program at University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point while continuing to work in the classroom.

Pollock said without that option, she would be unable to fulfill the necessary student-teaching requirements.

“I wouldn’t be able to quit my job just to do that,” she said.

MAKING CONNECTIONS

Administrators must feel confident before they place someone without a bachelor’s degree in education in the classroom, Nutter said.

Southwestern School Superintendent John Costello said the most important characteristics of educators are their ability to make connections with students.

Jim Boebel, superintendent of Platteville Public Schools, agreed.

“You are hiring the person first,” he said. “Get that good person in front of your kids and you’re going to coach them up to what you need them to be.”

TEMPORARY FIX

Ultimately, Nutter said, the state’s licensure system is a “short-term fix.”

That is why some districts are looking to develop creative solutions to attract candidates, including programs to help college graduates repay student loan debt and initiate recruitment efforts beginning in high school to attract students to the profession.

“We can’t continue to have an 8 to 9% deficit in the teaching profession each year and expect it to get better,” he said.