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Michigan Working to Address Shortage of Special Educators

LANSING, MI – A Michigan task force created to attract, prepare, and retain special education personnel to serve children with disabilities is making progress in addressing a staffing shortage.

Opening the Pipeline of Talent into Michigan’s Special Education, also known as OPTIMISE, was created by a 2021 state law.

“OPTIMISE supports Goal 7 of Michigan’s Top 10 Strategic Education Plan, to increase the number of certified teachers in areas of shortage,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice. “This task force is doing very important work. Our students with disabilities deserve to have a fully staffed, diverse, and qualified special education workforce to provide them with the services they need to learn.”

OPTIMISE leaders earlier this week shared with the State Board of Education progress that has included:

  • Attracting 20,915 job seekers to view 2,734 special education job listings as of May 23 on the Education/Jobs website that launched on Jan. 11, 2024, to supplement hiring efforts by Michigan schools.
  • Forming action teams to address identified challenges such as significant support needs for student behaviors that interfere with the ability to learn and workload and caseload demands for special educators that are unique to their roles, including the access to and affordability of credentials needed to teach special education.
  • Providing resources to high school students to explore special education careers, including job shadowing, volunteer opportunities, free college, scholarships and grants, and information about steps to become a special education professional and about Michigan colleges with special education programs.
  • Reaching out to high school counselors so they can learn more about advancements in special education and offer new options to high school students who want to study special education careers and encourage other students to consider those careers.
  • Placing “Why I Love the Job” advertisements to encourage young people to consider careers in special education and to promote the careers on social media.
  • Promoting 10 professions in special education – special education teacher, school psychologist, special education paraeducator, speech and language pathologist, school social worker, deaf educator, occupational therapist, orientation and mobility specialist, early intervention specialist, and physical therapist.

The presenters were Dr. Michele Harmala, MDE deputy superintendent for Educator Excellence, Career and Technical Education, Special Education, and Administrative Law; Ms. Kathy Fortino, OPTIMISE project manager; and Ms. Laurie VanderPloeg, OPTIMISE consultant.

“The mission of the OPTIMISE Task Force is building, supporting, and sustaining a new education system that can enthusiastically attract, prepare, and retain an effective and diverse special education workforce to serve individuals across Michigan,” said Ms. Fortino. “We are collaborating with a coalition of partners focused on energy to action to address the urgent shortage of educators servicing the needs of children with disabilities.”

OPTIMISE was created under Public Act 48 of 2021, Section 94d.

More information is available at OPTIMISE.Education.


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