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Report says lifting financial burden on educators could help fix Michigan's teacher shortage

BES Photos / flickr

Teachers from across the state weighed in on how to stop Michigan’s teacher shortage. Finding ways to reduce the financial burden on educators is their top recommendation. That’s according to a new report from Public Policy Associates, Inc.  

The report gathered input from teachers across the state. It found low starting wages are a big part of the problem.

Dan Quinn, Director for Education Policy with Public Policy Associates, wrote the report. He says teachers came up with some solutions.

“Local things like Grow-Your-Own programs, student loan forgiveness programs for people studying to become educators, and creating incentives or service scholarships for new educators entering into the profession,” Quinn says.

Stephanie Sedler, a Mount Pleasant Public Schools teacher, was part of a federal program that promised to clear most of her student debt if she became a teacher. But she says that promise has yet to be fulfilled.

“If my outstanding student loans aren’t forgiven as promised, we might not be able to afford to start a family,” Sedler says.

The report also recommends increasing compensation for all teachers, and reducing the resource inequities between neighboring districts.

Here's a list of the ten recommendations the report offers:

1. Compensation. Overall compensation for educators should be increased across the state with existing resource inequities between neighboring school districts reduced. 2. Recruitment. Incentives (e.g., service scholarships, tax credits, loan-forgiveness programs, housing stipends, or hiring bonuses) should be created to attract more educators to the fields and locations where they are needed most—addressing the availability of educators in specific areas, including educators working with struggling readers, English-learner students, students with disabilities, lower-income students, and students experiencing trauma. 3. “Grow-your-own.” Sustainable career pathways, such as cadet programs for high school students or teacher-leadership opportunities for early-career educators. Programs should be expanded in high-needs settings (e.g., building on successful community organizing models and in collaboration with businesses, philanthropy, and education stakeholder organizations) along with targeted programs that can help candidates with non-education degrees, those with some college, or those currently working in schools (e.g., education support professionals and long-term substitutes) advance toward degree completion, certification, or additional endorsement areas. 4. Marketing. Dedicated funding should be provided for an innovative statewide marketing and communications campaign to improve and support recruitment activities locally and/or nationally (similar to the Pure Michigan or Going PRO in Michigan campaigns). 5. Rural input. Future efforts should be made to reach out to educators in northern Lower Peninsula communities and the Upper Peninsula, as well as other areas in Michigan, to ensure that the distinct concerns of all settings are included in the public’s dialogue. 6. Equitable funding. Rebuilding Michigan’s educator-talent pipeline means Michigan’s education-funding system—the responsibility of the Legislature—should be addressed to establish more adequate and equitable resources and funding among school districts, thus reducing disparities that can cause mobility and retention issues for the lowest-funded districts. 7. Data coordination. The Michigan Department of Education along with intermediate school districts and educator-preparation programs should create a better data-collection and reporting system throughout the educator pipeline (on both the demand and supply side) to help guide informed decision-making and provide timely, targeted information with real-time district-level staffing needs in specific shortage concentrations or geographic areas. 8. Task force. A statewide task force—such as those convened in South Dakota and Colorado—should be created to study supply and demand data and provide a strategic plan to address recruitment and retention issues facing Michigan over the next ten years. 9. Partnerships. Educator-preparation programs and local school districts should expand on existing partnerships to better understand districts’ needs and the unique situations faced by our hardest-to-staff schools. 10. Annual conference. Communication between educators and policymakers should be fostered through an annual statewide conference oriented around sustaining the educator workforce and providing opportunities for researchers to share best practices and receive feedback.

Quinn says the report does not offer specific policy solutions, but he says educators need to have a bigger role in reframing education policy.

Heather Gauck, a Grand Rapids Public Schools teacher, agrees with Quinn.

“I have an important message to lawmakers in Lansing, take the time to listen to frontline educators, like myself, before making policies we have to implement in the classroom,” Gauck says.

Bryce Huffman was Michigan Radio’s West Michigan Reporter and host of Same Same Different. He is currently a reporter for Bridge Detroit.
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