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Legislature Has the Opportunity and Funds to Address Teacher Shortage Now

LANSING - State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice applauded the state legislature's action this week to fund health-related measures for schools and health care facilities during the pandemic. The supplemental budget bill includes funding for recruitment and retention bonuses for health care workers.

Dr. Rice said, however, that the legislature should also take this opportunity to invest in important strategic solutions for the recruitment and retention of teachers for Michigan's public schools.

"It's important that the legislature is allocating over one billion dollars to support health care during the pandemic," Dr. Rice said. "But it shouldn't be at the exclusion of addressing profound shortages in the teaching profession."

State Board of Education President Dr. Casandra Ulbrich noted, "It's time for the state legislature to serve our students and school staff by passing a menu of teacher recruitment and retention initiatives to address the teacher shortage and strengthen public education."

Dr. Rice has sent to the legislature a detailed menu of proposed solutions to help school districts struggling to fill their teacher shortages-ideas for which he first began advocating in October.

In a letter he sent to state legislative leaders on November 19, Dr. Rice said that the state legislature should invest between $300 million and $500 million over the next five years in the following strategies, among others noted in the letter, to help reverse Michigan's teacher shortage crisis:

  • Tuition and other expense reimbursement for current college students, including district support staff members in grow your own programs, who make a commitment to pursue teaching.
  • Loan forgiveness for recent college graduates who commit to careers in education and for current teachers who are working to pay off college loans.
  • Scholarships for high school seniors who aspire to and commit to a career in teaching. States as close as Indiana have these sorts of programs. We should as well.
  • Reviving and strengthening the teacher preparation pipeline in the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula which, unlike the rest of the state, rely very heavily on a single teacher preparation program to produce substantial numbers of teacher candidates.
  • Supporting better the mentoring of new teachers.
  • Easing restrictions on accepting teacher licenses from other states to help recruit and retain quality teachers in Michigan.

Dr. Rice said, "If we expect a major commitment from a wave of young people as our next generation of educators in our great state, the least we can do is to make sure that they don't go into debt to perform this all-important public service."

The Michigan Department of Education has also encouraged districts to begin Grow Your Own programs for school support staff who aspire to be teachers and for students who have an interest in teaching. Some federal Title II funding from MDE and some initial funding from the most recent budget negotiated by the governor and legislature are initial small investments for school districts to grow educators. Each of these can produce more teachers and more diverse teachers in Michigan schools in the coming years.

"Those efforts are important," Dr. Rice said, "but in the absence of major, targeted investments by the legislature of federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding or existing state revenue, they are not enough."

Michigan ranked last of 50 states in total education revenue growth, inflation-adjusted, from 1995 to 2015 according to the 2019 Michigan State University study Michigan School Finance at the Crossroads: A Quarter Century of State ControlThis historic underfunding continues to harm both the teacher preparation pipeline and education for our public school children in the state.

"School staff have worked hard and well in very difficult circumstances through the last 21 months of the pandemic," Dr. Rice said. "Now we need legislative support regarding teacher recruitment and retention to address the teacher shortage to serve children properly."

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