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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Gov. Whitmer pitches financial incentives to recruit more Michigan teachers

teacher
Getting more teachers into classrooms, and keeping them there, is the goal of new policy proposals from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (Bridge file photo)

Facing a statewide teacher shortage that threatens to hobble schools during a crucial post-pandemic year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is proposing financial incentives to recruit and retain educators, and alternative routes to lead classrooms.

The Democratic governor and an executive branch-appointed, 29-person committee of educators and health officials released a 40-page report Wednesday laying out in broad strokes Whitmer’s plans for the state’s public schools and their 1.5 million students. Some of those plans, such as more equitable funding and increased, state-funded child care, are goals the administration has advocated before the pandemic wreaked havoc on public schools.

New in the report, though, is a push to address the state’s growing teacher shortage.

 

Among the recommendations: service scholarships and loan forgiveness for teachers who commit to staying in their school district for a certain number of years.

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The plan’s recommendations aren’t binding, and many initiatives would need to be approved by the Republican-controlled legislature to take effect.

The report also doesn’t propose amounts for those financial incentives, but does suggest the money needed for the program could come from the latest round of federal COVID relief funds being sent to the state after being passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden.

Those efforts would be part of a multi-pronged effort to bolster the state’s pool of teachers, who are quitting at higher rates at the same time fewer college students are majoring in education as a future career.

Some school districts, particularly in rural northern communities and urban areas, have struggled with teacher shortages for years. Today, no region of the state is immune, with many districts even turning to uncertified teachers to teach subjects they were never trained in.

Three weeks ago, the Michigan Department of Education launched a program to lure former teachers back to the profession by waiving the requirement of 150 hours of recertification classes to rejoin classrooms.

As Bridge Michigan reported, 1,200 former teachers signed up in the program’s first three weeks.

State Superintendent Michael Rice offered another financial incentive in an interview this week with Bridge: boost starting teacher pay. While Michigan’s average teacher salary is higher than the national average, starting teacher pay in the state ranks 41st in the nation, according to the National Education Association teacher union.

Higher starting pay might persuade more college students to consider a teaching career, Rice said.

Whitmer also proposed financial support to help schools “grow your own” teachers, by encouraging paraprofessionals who now work in support roles in classrooms to attain teaching licenses, and through “teacher cadet” programs that introduce teaching to high school students.

“Those most harmed by the teacher shortage are our students,” the report states. “At a time when additional support is needed academically, socially, emotionally and physically, schools and the state must critically think about how to recruit and retain educators.”

The report argues that Michigan must pay particular attention to recruiting more teachers of color.

While almost 18 percent of the state’s public school students are Black, just 6 percent of teachers, 13 percent of administrators and 5 percent of superintendents are African-American. Numerous studies show African-American students benefit from having Black teachers.

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • More school funding using recommendations of the Michigan-based School Finance Research Collaborative, a group of business and education leaders who developed a school funding formula based on best practices in academically high-achieving states. The group recommends a base amount for all students, and more money for students in more need of services, such as English language learners and those from low-income households.
  • Consistent funding for schools that may have fewer students at desks in the fall if some families choose to continue learning remotely. Under current state law, there are “seat time” requirements that discourage remote learning when not in a crisis like a pandemic.
  • Waivers of accountability measures that discourage innovation and creativity in schools.
  • Universal preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. Currently, Michigan’s Great Start Readiness Program offers state-funded preschool for 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families. Whitmer proposes expanding GSRP over a period of years to include all 4-year-olds and the expansion of a current pilot program for 3-year-olds. The report didn’t put a price tag on universal preschool.

Whitmer’s report was met with praise from education leaders across the state.

“It is a guide to ideas that can help meet the diverse and individual needs of students in the myriad of ways that this pandemic has affected them,” said David Hecker, president of the American Federation of Teachers union in Michigan.

Rice, the state superintendent, added that it’s “going to take substantial work and resources for school districts, educators, students, and their families to begin rebuilding on the academic successes achieved by educators and students prior to the pandemic. The governor’s advisory council focused on several opportunities to make progress in Michigan schools.”

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