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Wisconsin schools are increasingly turning to emergency licenses to get staff into classrooms with some using those licenses longer than may have been intended.

According to a new report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum, the state Department of Public Instruction issued 3,197 emergency licenses to teach in Wisconsin in the 2021-22 school year, up 184.2% from the 1,125 issued in the 2012-13 school year.

“When school districts in Wisconsin cannot find a teacher licensed by DPI to fill a certain position, they can hire an unlicensed individual who then applies for a license with certain conditions or stipulations,” the WPF report explains.

These types of licenses can be used by teachers, counselors, social workers, librarians and school administrators.

“Emergency licenses play an important role in staffing the state’s classrooms and may be used in a variety of scenarios, which are often short-term and sometimes urgent,” the report states.

WPF notes that this type of licensing can benefit districts and teachers, especially those who have moved to Wisconsin from another state where they are licensed but have required coursework to complete here before they can receive their permanent license. It can also help an employee transition to a new position while they work toward a full license or be part of a temporary situation due to factors like scheduling, the report notes.

“As these scenarios illustrate, the use of emergency licenses does not necessarily indicate a problem in a district,” the report states. “However, the rapid growth in emergency certifications raises questions about whether workforce challenges have grown for districts, whether the use of emergency licenses has outgrown their original purpose, and whether other solutions should be considered.”

While the number of emergency licenses and license holders — 2,854 in 2021-22, 1,076 in 2013 — have both increased, so has the number of districts using teachers with an emergency license, WPF found. In 2013, 303 districts used a teacher with one, while in 2022 it was 406 districts.

About 42% of emergency licenses have been used in urban schools over the past decade, with rural schools at 33% and suburban schools at 14%, according to the report, with the rest made up of districts with a combination of locales or town schools.

“This consistency indicates that workforce issues causing a rise in emergency licensures are not increasing disproportionately in certain geographic types of districts,” the report states.

Three types of licenses are accounting for the increase, according to the report: cross-categorical special education, regular education, and elementary and middle education.

“These three license categories are intended to be used by career teachers for multiple years,” the report states. “The rise in their use suggests that a growing number of teachers are entering classrooms before they meet the requirements for a regular license.”

WPF found that about 30% of school staff holding an emergency license held one in a previous year, and about 10% had one in two previous years, potentially indicating their use beyond the short term.

“The program anticipates some repeat license holders in districts with limited staff, such as a high school where a social studies teacher gets an emergency certification in psychology for one year and then sociology in a later year,” the report states. “Yet, the majority of the repeated licenses are in the same subject area — many of them in Cross-Categorical Special Education and Regular Education.”

According to WPF, the information should be among the considerations for officials and policymakers addressing the ongoing teacher shortages, as well as discussing issues like school funding and the teacher pipeline.

“In addition, the state and districts should work to ensure that new hires with no classroom experience receive meaningful mentorship and effective training,” the report states. “With proper support, the emergency license holders of today are more likely to remain in the profession and reduce the need for this approach in the future.”

Scott Girard joined the Cap Times in 2019 and covers K-12 education. A Madison native, he graduated from La Follette High School after attending Sennett Middle School and Elvehjem Elementary School during his own K-12 career.

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