By LaKeshia N. Myers
An interesting conversation took place in the Assembly Committee on Colleges and Universities this week, when the Minority Teacher Loan Program was debated. Assembly Bill 554, seeks to remove the term “minority” and replace it with “disadvantaged”. However, there is no definition of who is considered “disadvantaged.” This legislation is being advanced as a preemptive action to get Wisconsin in line with recently passed federal law regarding race-based admissions.
In general, the bill would modify these programs and requirements so they apply to disadvantaged students rather than ethnic minorities.
This change is problematic for many reasons. First and foremost, eliminating racial designation from the specified scholarship, grant, and retention programs managed by the Higher Education Aids Board would decrease the number of teachers of color in Wisconsin. Currently, Wisconsin’s licensed teacher workforce is 94% White, 2% Hispanic, and 1.8% Black. Juxtapose this with the fact that one third of all public school students in Wisconsin is a student of color and you can see that our workforce is not reflective of our student population.
Just four short years ago, I partnered with former Representatives Amy Loudenbeck and Jason Fields to expand the Wisconsin Minority Teacher Loan Program beyond the City of Milwaukee to all seventy-two counties and increase the notification mechanism of the program on all college campuses. Research shows that having a teacher of color, and a Black teacher, in particular, does a lot of good for all students, but especially well for minority students. Black students who have one Black teacher by third grade are 7% more likely to graduate high school and 13% more likely to enroll in college. After having two Black teachers, Black students’ likelihood of enrolling in college increases by 32%. Knowing this and understanding the bipartisan support of the Minority Teacher Loan Program four years ago, I question the need to change course in 2023.
When asked by a constituent online about this bill, its author, Senator Wimberger stated, “The bill eliminates race as a basis for programs, and instead requires allocation based on disadvantaged status.” He added, “It’s time to stop perpetuating stereotypes that socioeconomic status is tied to immutable characteristics. Should there be any lingering systemic effects on particular populations from eras past, focusing on a status of disadvantaged will benefit those individuals without attaching bigoted assumptions. And someone who is not disadvantaged will avoid disparagement from others thinking they only got the job undeservingly to meet an equity goal.”
This logic is vehemently flawed, as the Senator is seeking to utilize policy to change hearts and minds, when in reality, policy can only be used to change behavior. The reason the Minority Teacher Loan Program and others are even necessary is because of the need to rectify past discriminatory practices. To eliminate the phenomenon of race within the context of these programs would be disingenuous and I would also assuage that it is impossible to divorce race from anything in America, as race is indelibly linked to the American experience.
What is clear is that we need more teachers of color and this scholarship program is a mechanism to get us there.