MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin can slow a growing shortage of teachers if people stop bad-mouthing educators and pay them more, the state’s schools superintendent said Thursday.

Superintendent Tony Evers warned during his annual State of Education speech in the state Capitol rotunda that fewer young people are entering the teaching profession and districts are having a harder time filling high-demand positions in special, bilingual and technical education.

He offered almost no specifics on anything he spoke about, instead keeping the speech vague. He asserted that many Wisconsin school districts face “critical” staffing shortages.

Evers noted that the state Department of Public Instruction has implemented new regulations relaxing requirements for retired teachers to obtain emergency licenses. People can help immediately by not vilifying teachers.

“Some of these changes may require us to engage policymakers to build long-term solutions,” Evers said. “But one strategy to send a positive message to our young people is free, and we can do it today. We need to end the negative rhetoric surrounding the teaching profession.”

Evers didn’t offer any examples of people berating teachers or the effects of such talk in his speech. Asked for examples during a question-and-answer session with reporters afterward, he said teachers are typically blamed in low-achieving districts, college students have told them they don’t want to be teachers because they don’t want targets on their backs and teachers receive intense public scrutiny, noting whenever one does something wrong he or she always ends up in the news.

He also called on better pay for teachers during his speech, pointing to U.S. Census Bureau data that shows teacher pay dropped by 4.2 percent between the 1999-2000 and 2013-14 school years. He didn’t say how he would accomplish that during his speech, but in a brief interview with The Associated Press he said he planned to ask Gov. Scott Walker for more money in the 2017-19 budget to help rural schools compete for teachers.

He told reporters during his question-and-answer session that he envisions making $5,000 to $10,000 available to about 160 of the state’s most sparsely populated districts that they can use to match offers other districts make to their teachers.

Surveys by ACT, a company that produces college preparatory tests, found that only 5 percent of those taking the tests planned to major in education, down from 9 percent in 2010. Data the state has reported to the federal government to satisfy the Higher Education Act shows the number of college students enrolled in teacher preparation programs in Wisconsin fell from 11,780 in 2010-11 to 8,867 in 2013-14.

Evers issued a news release after the speech saying he plans to ask Walker to fund more mental health services in school and provide more training for staff on student mental health issues. He also plans to ask for more resources for students learning English and more funding for special education.

The 2015-17 state budget provided public schools with $12.6 billion, up slightly from the previous two-year budget.

The department’s 2017-19 budget request is due to Walker in November.


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