In early 2011, Wisconsin schools were in a financial crisis.
Faced with declining student enrollment and rising administrative costs, many school districts were forced to make cuts to staff and student programs.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker promised to take action.
"Wisconsin's budget is broken due to an overreliance on one-time fixes, illegal transfers, unsustainable federal funding, and economic weakness due to high taxes and job-killing regulations," Walker said.
Walker introduced Act 10 in mid-February 2011. The landmark legislation ended forced unionism, limited union privileges of collective bargaining and gave local school boards more control over district budgets.
Act 10 became law on June 29, 2011.
While some in the education establishment originally decried the law as "an attack on unions," Act 10 has helped to save public school districts from overwhelming financial deficits and gave employees a choice of association.
A study released by the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance revealed school districts saved an accumulated $584 million in the 2011-2012 school year alone.
"Before Act 10 we were unable to come up with any cost-savings strategy or any kind of educator effectiveness strategy, or to reverse the trend of putting adult employee needs before student needs," New Berlin School District Finance Director Rodger Dickson told EAGnews. "The tools given to us were absolutely necessary. We could have been facing cuts in programs, increasing class sizes, and a watered-down curriculum."
Post Act, 10 districts are facing their best financial and educational outlook in at least a decade. New teacher hires outnumber layoffs and 92 percent of districts have kept or expanded their sports programs, according to the governor's office.
And for the first time, teachers are free agents and are afforded more control over their paychecks. No longer attached to union pay scales based on seniority and number of graduate credits earned, educators with strong reputations can bargain with school districts for greater salaries.
"I think your premise that teachers have the ability to individually negotiate their starting pay is correct and we are hearing some stories of teachers using their ability to get higher pay elsewhere to negotiate higher pay with their current employer," said Barry Forbes, associate executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards.
School administrators expect the rising salaries to attract more top college graduates into the K-12 system, which will result in an overall improvement in the quality of instruction.
The results of Act 10 are undeniable. The landmark legislation helped save Wisconsin schools from financial ruin and put the state on the path toward real and long-lasting education reform.