Wisconsin’s anti-collective bargaining law has significantly lowered teacher pay, increased teacher turnover rates and likely harmed student achievement, new study finds

From the Center for American Progress


Following the passage of Act 10, legislation championed by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker that eliminated collective bargaining rights and slashed benefits for public-sector workers, Wisconsin’s public education system has seen significant harm. Teacher compensation and experience have dropped drastically and turnover rates have increased — all warning signs to Congress and other states considering similar legislation.


Enacted in 2011, Wisconsin’s Act 10 virtually eliminated collective bargaining rights and slashed benefits for most public-sector workers. Now, the American Worker Project at the Center for American Progress Action Fund has unveiled new research showing how damaging Wisconsin’s Act 10 has been to the state’s public education system. In Wisconsin’s public schools, teacher compensation and experience have dropped significantly and turnover rates have increased — all of which negatively impacts Wisconsin families and students. The analysis was unveiled on a press call Wednesday with Wisconsin Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling, Illinois Senate Pro Tempore Don Harmon (D), and Minnesota State Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL).

“Governor Scott Walker and Republican elected leaders in Wisconsin said that Act 10 would benefit schools and families alike. They couldn’t have been more wrong,” said David Madland, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, senior adviser to the American Worker Project, and co-author of the analysis. “What has actually happened is that Wisconsin’s public education system has suffered a major blow since anti-union legislation was enacted. An attack on teachers and other public sector workers doesn’t just hurt those employees — everyone in Wisconsin will bear this impact.”

“As a result of Act 10, teachers receive significantly lower compensation, turnover rates are much higher, and teacher experience has dropped significantly,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling. “Rather than encouraging the best and the brightest to become teachers and remain in the field throughout their career, Act 10 has demonized and devalued the teaching profession and driven away many teachers.”

The American Worker Project analysis used data collected by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and found:

  • Reduced teacher compensation. In the year immediately following the law’s passage, median compensation for Wisconsin teachers decreased by 8.2 percent in inflation-adjusted terms, with median benefits being cut by 18.6 percent and the median salary falling by 2.6 percent. Median salaries and benefits continued to fall during the next four years so that median compensation in the 2015-16 school year was 12.6 percent — or $10,843 dollars — lower than it was before the passage of Act 10.
  • Higher teacher turnover rates. The percentage of teachers who left the profession spiked to 10.5 percent after the 2010-11 school year, up from 6.4 percent in the year before Act 10 was implemented. Exit rates have remained higher than before, with 8.8 percent of teachers leaving after the 2015-16 school year — the most recent school year for which data are available.
  • Greater percentage of less-experienced teachers, and a decline in overall teacher experience. The percentage of teachers with less than five years of experience increased from 19.6 percent in the 2010-11 school year to 24.1 percent in the 2015-16 school year. Average teaching experience decreased from 14.6 years in the 2010-11 school year to 13.9 in the 2011-12 school year, which is where it remained in the 2015-16 school year.
  • Higher rate of interdistrict moves. Interdistrict moves — when a teacher leaves one Wisconsin district to teach at another the next school year — has increased from 1.3 percent before the passage of Act 10 to 3.4 percent at the end of the 2014-15 school year.
  • Possible reduction in student performance and outcomes. Peer-reviewed research on Act 10’s effects on student outcomes has yet to be published, but several academics have produced working papers examining the law’s impact on Wisconsin students. This research is consistent with the authors’ findings that Act 10 has led to reduced teacher experience, increased exit rates, increased interdistrict teacher transfers, and thus has likely reduced student outcomes. Indeed, a recent working paper found that Act 10 had reduced statewide student achievement on science and math.

The American Worker Project’s research is particularly relevant because members of Congress as well as state elected officials in Illinois and Minnesota are considering similar legislation to attack public-sector employees. Meanwhile, Governor Walker, who championed Act 10 in his first term, just announced his bid for a third term. The U.S. Supreme Court will also soon hear arguments in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, a case that could significantly weaken public-sector unions and teachers’ ability to collectively bargain.

Click here to read “Attacks on Public-Sector Unions Harm States: How Act 10 Has Affected Education in Wisconsin” by David Madland and Alex Rowell.