The state should require that its school districts consider classroom performance as a factor in determining which teachers are laid off when a reduction in force is necessary. The bar for this goal was raised in 2017.
Factors to consider: Wisconsin requires that seniority is the sole factor used to determine which teachers are laid off during a reduction in force. Teachers are laid off "only in the inverse order of the appointment of such teachers." This policy applies to school districts located in counties with populations of 500,000 or more, and it appears that this policy only applies to teachers hired before 1995. It is unclear that the state has policy related to layoffs for its school districts located in smaller counties or for its teachers hired after 1995.
Wisconsin Statute 118.23(4)
Require that districts consider teacher effectiveness as the most important factor in determining which teachers are laid off during reductions in force.
Wisconsin should give districts the flexibility to determine their own layoff policies, but it should do so within a framework that ensures that teacher effectiveness is the determinative factor. Further, although it may be useful for Wisconsin to consider seniority among other criteria, the state should also consider performance so that it does not sacrifice effective teachers while maintaining low performers.
Wisconsin indicated that it is a local control state and therefore cannot mandate employment practices. However, 2013 Act 10 removed most collective bargaining rights for educators, and most districts have changed over to employment handbooks that do not use seniority as the primary factor in determining layoffs.
"Last In, First Out (LIFO)" policies put adult interests before student needs, yet most districts across the country still use these policies in the event of teacher layoffs. While most states leave these decisions to district discretion, other states require layoffs to be based on seniority. Such policies fail to give due weight to a teacher's classroom performance and risk sacrificing effective teachers while maintaining low performers.
Policies that prioritize seniority in layoff decisions can also cause significant upheaval in schools and school districts. As teachers who are newer to the classroom traditionally draw lower salaries, a seniority-based layoff policy is likely to require that districts lay off a larger number of probationary teachers rather than a smaller group of ineffective teachers to achieve the same budget reduction.
States can leave districts flexibility in determining layoff policies, but they should do so while also ensuring that classroom performance is considered. Further, if performance is prioritized, states need not prohibit the use of seniority as an additional criterion in determining who is laid off.