But for opponents of the law, it unfairly cuts take-home pay, batters morale, and deprives schools of droves of veteran teachers who are retiring early. "The loss of experience and the loss of qualified mentors [for new teachers] outweighs any financial gain to the districts," says Betsy Kippers, a teacher in Racine and vice president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council, a 98,000-member union.
Many states – not just Wisconsin – have been struggling to rein in the benefit costs of public employees. Indiana and Ohio both passed laws this year restricting collective bargaining for teachers and other public workers – though voters may repeal Ohio's in November.
In Tacoma, Wash., the school district's proposal to trim teacher pay, increase class sizes, and reassign teachers based on evaluations rather than strictly on seniority prompted a strike that's now in its fourth day, despite a judge's temporary order on Wednesday that the nearly 1,900 teachers return to work.
But the fiercest statewide battle has been waged in Wisconsin, where 5,000 school employees – about twice as many as in each of the past two years – are retiring this year, according to The Associated Press.
The Beloit district lost 10 percent of its teachers, filling only 40 out of 60 vacancies. And by January, Green Bay expects more than 10 percent of its teachers to have retired, the AP reports.
At the high school where Howe worked, eight teachers retired who had taught there for more than 160 years combined. "You can't replace that," he says.