When Governor Scott Walker and the Wisconsin legislature pushed through Act 10 in 2011, it was to address the state’s continuous budget problems when the Democrats were in control. Since then, Wisconsin taxpayers have saved over $5 billion.
However, a new study by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL) shows that Act 10 may have had a positive impact on student performance as well. The peer-reviewed study, “Keeping Score: Act 10’s Impact on Student Achievement,” shows Act 10 led to improved math scores in Wisconsin’s schools while having no negative effect on the state’s graduation rates.
“Act 10 is arguably one of the most consequential pieces of legislation ever enacted in Wisconsin,” said WILL Research Director Will Flanders, an author of the study. “While opponents have tried to scapegoat the law as harmful to Wisconsin students, this study reveals that the innovation and staffing flexibility spurred by Act 10 has served students better than the previous system.”
In the study, Flanders and co-author Policy Analyst Collin Roth point out that Act 10 was more than just a budget bill in its impact. “It was nothing short of a revolution,” Flanders and Roth wrote.
“In fact, it served to fundamentally alter public education in Wisconsin by empowering decision makers to put the needs of students first,” the study’s authors wrote. “Superintendents were allowed to make staffing and budget decisions that best served students and schools. A marketplace emerged that rewarded quality teachers, replacing the antiquated system of seniority. Schools were also unshackled from the administrative handcuffs.”
The study contradicts the finding of a previous study by an opponent of Act 10. While that study claimed Act 10 had a negative impact upon student achievement, Flanders and Roth point out that the study did not control for student disability rates and did not include the state’s two largest school districts, Milwaukee and Madison.
The WILL study finds that the positive impact on schools was “consistent across small town, rural, and suburban school districts.”
“The effects are strongest in suburban and small town districts, and somewhat weaker in rural ones,” Flanders and Roth wrote. “However, we do not observe a positive relationship with Act 10 in urban school districts.”
One of the possible reasons for the lack of an impact for the urban school districts could be how they fought implementation of Act 10 and have not taken full advantage of the reforms offered.
This study follows previous research by WILL on Act 10 showing the possible benefits of the landmark legislation. A 2016 study by WILL showed Act 10 had no effect on student-teacher ratios or any significant effect on teacher experience. Earlier this year, a WILL report showed how school districts used merit pay to incentivize teachers.
The authors of the study hope that it debunks claims that Act 10 has had a detrimental effect on education in Wisconsin. Instead, by freeing school districts from the restraints of the pre-Act 10 era, students have actually done better in school districts that embraced Act 1o.
“In education debates, all sides claim to be acting in the best interests of kids,” said Roth. “What is clear from this data is: Wisconsin students benefitted from Act 10.”