Teacher unions aren’t as powerful in Wisconsin, and teacher pay is higher

The teacher union landscape in Wisconsin changed dramatically following the passage of Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 budget repair bill, more commonly known as Act 10. Union recertification elections restored workplace democracy, collective bargaining was limited to wages and salary, and merit pay rewarded high-performing teachers.

Opposition to the landmark legislation was strong among teacher unions, and since its passage, Education Minnesota has been vocal about how Act 10 “hurt” education and has “warned” educators of how similar reforms in Minnesota would turn the state into Wisconsin.

“The teachers’ union always warns us that we ‘don’t want to become like Wisconsin,’” shared a Minnesota teacher during one of Educated Teachers MN’s focus groups. “We are made to believe that educators have it so terrible across the border.”

But research by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty revealed that Act 10 did not bring about the dramatic negative outcomes its critics forecasted.

In fact, recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) show Wisconsin’s average annual K-12 public school teacher salary is higher than in Minnesota. During the 2020-2021 school year, the average salary of Wisconsin teachers was $60,038 compared to Minnesota’s average of $59,069. The percent change in teacher pay from the 2009-2010 school year — when Minnesota teachers on average made more than Wisconsin teachers — to 2020-2021 is also lower for Wisconsin teachers, with Minnesota teacher pay dropping more than double the percent change (-7.2 percent) compared to their Wisconsin peers (-3.5 percent).

Additionally, when NCES and the U.S. Census Bureau normalized average teacher salary data in 2021 by cost of living and cost of labor in each state, Wisconsin public school teachers still out-earn Minnesota’s ($65.9k to $58.5k), as reported by U.S.A. Facts. This also places Wisconsin’s average teacher salary above the national average ($65.1k).

Wisconsin school districts have more freedom with their compensation systems since they are no longer tied to strict union pay scales. Nearly 40 percent of districts in the state offer some type of performance-based pay, which treats teachers like the professionals they are versus compensating them like line workers who all earn the same salaries for the same years of service.