University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education Dean Diana Hess announced Tuesday that thanks to a generous $5 million gift from Susan and James Patterson, the school’s Teacher Pledge program will extend through the 2026-27 school year.
The nationwide teacher shortage is a growing, real problem, as there are currently 36,000 vacant teaching positions across the United States. At UW-Madison, the Teacher Pledge program is designed to address this shortage by supporting students interested in working in education and incentivizing them to stay in the field.
The program began in 2020 and pays the equivalent of in-state tuition — as well as other costs such as testing and licensing costs — for education students who pledge to teach for three or four years in the state of Wisconsin following graduation, according to the press release.
“Thanks to generous donors like the Pattersons, this ambitious program can support even more students as we work to address educator staffing challenges and provide schoolchildren across Wisconsin with the best possible education,” Dean Hess said in the release about the donation.
Susan Patterson, an author and UW-Madison School of Education alumna, is proud to help support the program and aspiring teachers.
“Teachers have never been more important than they are right now in America,” she said in the release.
Susan Patterson’s husband, James Patterson, is the best selling author in the world, holding the record for the most New York Times best sellers. While he didn’t attend UW-Madison, he is a “self-described honorary Badger” according to the university release.
The Pattersons’ donation will not only extend the program to the 2026-27 school year but contribute to the school’s goal of extending it to the 2027-28 year as well.
In Wisconsin, the number of emergency teaching licenses, which allow unlicensed individuals to receive temporary teaching licenses to fill job shortages, has almost tripled in the past decade, according to the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
While the program will not fully solve teaching shortages, it’s a step in the right direction as there are already 226 program alumni teaching across the state, according to the release.
The program is completely funded by donors, and while it was originally planned to only run for five years, it has been extended twice thanks to increased donations, the university said. To date, over $26 million have been given in support of the Teacher Pledge Program.
“We think our Teacher Pledge holds the potential to inspire more people to enter the profession, to keep them teaching longer, and to help deliver some solutions,” Hess said. “Our donors are helping make this important work possible.”