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Wisconsin teachers retire in droves after union loss in bargaining fight

Teachers across Wisconsin are retiring or quitting at higher rates than usual, due in part to a new law that cuts benefits and curtails collective bargaining rights.

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Gov. Scott Walker reads to a second-grade class at Messmer Preparatory school in Milwaukee. Wisconsin schools this fall are dealing with smaller budgets and veteran teachers departing.

Jeff Sainlar/Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel/AP

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In the small Monona Grove School District in Wisconsin, three teachers had planned to retire this year. But then, says history teacher Thomas Howe, the "political dust-up" happened – the controversy over a law, eventually pushed through by Gov. Scott Walker (R) and supporters, that restricts public employees' collective-bargaining power.

In the midst of the battle last spring, 17 teachers, including Mr. Howe, retired from that school district. "Many of us felt very bittersweet about it," he says.

Across Wisconsin this year, teachers have opted to retire at higher rates than usual, partly in response to the new law. Under the law, teachers have to contribute a considerable chunk of their salaries to health and retirement plans, and districts can decide to lengthen the school day or year without increasing salaries.

For supporters of the legislation, it grants more flexibility to districts to prevent costs from careening out of control. Some districts have already started saving money, according to Governor Walker's office.

Moreover, the instruction at some schools may benefit from a changing of the guard, education experts say.

"To the degree this is a shift in the composition of who's in the system ... it is going to align the system more with the direction of current education reform, which I would say is good," says Allan Odden, a professor of educational leadership and policy analysis at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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