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Michigan House passes bill to pay student teachers for classroom work

teacher in the classroom
College students studying to become teachers generally have to work for free when they student teach in schools as part of their degree program. A bill in the Michigan Legislature would pay them a $90 daily stipend. (Shutterstock)

Lindsey Wiseman was supposed to student teach in Elk Rapids last semester but couldn’t afford gas for the 76-mile round trip from her home in Lake Leelanau near Traverse City. So she asked to be reassigned to Suttons Bay Elementary School, 8 miles away.

The shorter commute was more manageable, but Wiseman still finished each day exhausted and resentful of friends in other fields who had paid internships while she worked, unpaid, to help manage a classroom full of pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students.

A teacher shortage crisis is brewing in school districts across Michigan. Chalkbeat Detroit and

Bridge Michigan are exploring the issue in a series of stories. This is the fourth story in the series.

Earlier stories:

“It was so much to be doing for free,” said Wiseman, 25, who was paying tuition to Central Michigan University, where she was pursuing an education degree, to obtain her student teaching credits. “I felt mad about it.”

State lawmakers are trying to help. The House on Wednesday passed a bill that would provide student teachers a stipend of $90 per day. Experienced teachers who serve as their mentors would receive $1,000, under the bill introduced by Pamela Hornberger, the Chesterfield Township Republican who heads the House Education Committee.

Student teaching is required for teacher certification in Michigan, but in most districts it is unpaid. That makes it challenging for the state to attract new people to the teaching field at a time when it’s trying to mitigate a growing teacher shortage.

The teacher shortage already has led to temporary school closures, larger class sizes, and the assignment of underqualified educators assigned to courses they feel unprepared to teach. The problem is expected to get worse because of a sharp decline in the number of students in Michigan’s teacher preparation programs.

So policymakers are under pressure to make it more affordable for college students to earn education degrees and pay living expenses during student teaching, which can last from a semester to a full year. 

The Hornberger bill passed overwhelmingly and without debate. Four members opposed: Steve Carra of Three Rivers, Steven Johnson of Wayland, Matt Maddock of Milford, and John Reilly of Oakland, all Republicans. The legislation now heads to the Senate.

The Michigan House Fiscal Agency said it could not yet determine how much the measure, if it becomes law, would cost the state.

The Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals supports the bill. 

“In order to increase the pool of teacher candidates and build a diverse educator workforce, people have to be able to afford to go into education,” Executive Director Wendy Zdeb said. 

Student teachers work 8.5 hours a day, five days a week, not including lesson planning, grading, after-school meetings, and tutoring sessions with students who need extra help, Zdeb said.

“These hard-working future teachers shouldn’t also have to hold down night and weekend jobs just to pay the bills,” she said.

Alie Little said a $90-a-day stipend proposed in the bill would have helped a lot after she gave up a part-time nannying job to student teach at Cherry Knoll Elementary School in Traverse City Areas Public Schools last semester.

“Anything would have helped,” she said. “I love the idea of paying the mentor, too. They’re doing extra work. They’re feeding and pouring knowledge into you. It’s a lot to take on a younger teacher and put in extra work to help them.”

Like Wiseman, Little recently graduated from Central Michigan University. To get by during student teaching, both relied on support from fiancés and odd jobs: dog walking, babysitting, and photographing a high school hockey team.

State Superintendent Michael Rice said the financial strain can be even greater for education majors who have to leave full-time jobs to student teach.

“What we need the Legislature to do is provide funds for those people who are in the midst of a career, people who need to make up for lost revenue during that period,” Rice said. 

Rice has been working with lawmakers on other solutions to the teacher shortage. One proposal moving through the Legislature would get new teachers in classrooms faster by waiving certification tests for experienced out-of-state educators. Another would support grow-your-own programs that introduce high school students to the profession. 

Rice is also asking the Legislature to help ease the tuition burden for students who major in education at college. 

One plan he backs was proposed by Launch Michigan, a coalition of business and philanthropic leaders working to improve schools. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Legislature included the plan in separate budget proposals but haven’t agreed on details, which are being worked out in negotiations this month. 

Launch Michigan wants the state to pay partial tuition for education majors who agree to teach in Michigan public schools after graduation. The state’s contribution could be as much as half of tuition, and the new educator’s commitment to teaching in Michigan could be as long as eight years, depending on which version of the proposal lawmakers adopt in the school aid budget.

“It needs to be significant,” said Launch Michigan President Adam Zemke. “The cash should be significant and the required years of service should be significant.”

Recipients who leave Michigan or leave the profession before the end of their commitment would have to repay a portion of their scholarships, Zemke said, and participating universities would have to cap tuition hikes and provide ongoing resources to graduates during their early teaching years.

“If the state pays for half the tuition, universities have to be there for new teachers at their most vulnerable times,” Zemke said.

If the program had been in place when Camryn Booms was applying to teacher preparation programs, she’s sure she would have stayed in Michigan.

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Instead, Booms, 23, of Harbor Beach avoided student loan debt by going to the University of Wisconsin, where a state program called Wisconsin Teacher Pledge provided her free tuition as long as she promised to teach in the state for three years.

“I really love my home state” and didn’t want to leave, she said. “I’m like an outsider in Wisconsin, and it’s nine hours away. I was sad.”

Launch Michigan’s proposal is “a brilliant strategy,” said Joe Lubig, associate dean of the School of Education at Northern Michigan University. “Look at what it says: As a society, we’re going to invest in the people developing our children and young adults.”

Tracie Mauriello covers state education policy for Chalkbeat Detroit and Bridge Michigan. Reach her at tmauriello@chalkbeat.org.

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