By BAILEY LASKE
Capital News Service
LANSING – –Michigan’s struggle to retain teachers in low-income areas may soon receive a helping hand.
New bills in the House and Senate would give educators who teach mathematics, science or special education a bonus of $1,800 a year if more than half the students in their school district are eligible for free or reduced lunch. The bill applies to school districts, intermediate school districts and public school academies.
According to Rep. Winnie Brinks, D-Grand Rapids, low-income areas tend to pay lower salaries for teachers even though these educators do some of the hardest work.
Brinks, a sponsor of the House measure, said she hopes the bonuses would encourage dedicated and caring educators to go to and remain at these schools.
The Department of Education reported that between 2016-17, more than 17,000 teachers who taught at a school for a year didn’t return to the same school the next year.
Comparing the latest data, Michigan has 80.2 percent of teachers staying at the same school for consecutive years. That ranks below the national average of 84.2 percent.
The retention of educators is only part of a bigger problem, said David Crim, a Michigan Education Association communications consultant.
“The larger problem is the teacher shortage, caused primarily by attacks on teacher wages, benefits, pensions and collective bargaining rights over the past eight years,” Crim said.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, enrollment in colleges of education across the state is down by more than 50 percent since 2008, and average teacher salaries across the state have declined for the fifth straight year.
The number of new teachers leaving the profession in the first five years of teaching is at an historic high, according to the Michigan Education Association.
Among the sponsors of the bonus legislation are Reps. David LaGrand, D-Grand Rapids; Jon Hoadley D-Kalamazoo; and Tom Cochran, D-Mason.
“These bills give a financial incentive that will help staff the schools facing a teacher shortage now, in the subjects that are most difficult to find certified teachers for,” Crim said of the bonus proposal.
Brinks said she hopes by increasing teacher’s income with a bonus, teachers would have an incentive to remain in the field, and that it may make the occupation more attractive to those making career choices.
Kathy Berry, president of the Michigan Council of Teachers of Mathematics, doesn’t see the bill as helping to accomplish either of those objectives.
“The bill reads as a nice gesture, but at the end of the day, $1,800 is not that much money,” Berry said.
People with the skills to teach mathematics are capable of going into other industries that are more profitable, and that sum of money wouldn’tt change their minds, Berry said. She said that although all teachers would like more money in their pocket, most would rather see their per pupil allowance increased.
The annual cost if the bill were to pass is unclear, but according to the n Department of Education, 702,777 of 1,532,335 Michigan public school students were eligible for free or reduced lunch during the fall of 2016.
The bills are pending in the House Committee of Appropriations and Senate Committee on Education.
By BAILEY LASKE