By SOPHIA BRANDT
Capital News Service
LANSING – Michigan is trying to combat teacher shortages, starting with new strategies to recruit and retain student teachers.
One of those strategies is to help cover the tuition and living costs of student teachers who need the classroom experience for certification.
The Department of Education says the Future Educator Stipend provides up to $9,600 per semester to support student teachers.
“Michigan has been struggling to increase the number of students in teacher education programs for a long time, but enrollment has declined,” said Colby Cesaro, the vice president of Michigan Independent Colleges and Universities. The organization represents private higher education institutions.
Cesaro said COVID-19 relief funding has made money available for the stipends that are now a part of the state’s school aid budget.
Student teachers typically are not paid for their internships while still obligated to pay tuition to their home college or university.
Similar to housing incentives like the Teachers Live Here program offers in Holland, stipends work to keep students on path to becoming Michigan educators.
“During the pandemic there were a lot of exits from the teacher workforce. A lot of teachers got overwhelmed and burned out,” Cesaro said.
Incentivising teachers creates a new opportunity to keep people in the profession and bring more in.
Cesaro said that having fewer Michigan college students preparing to become teachers negatively affects school districts that have fewer qualified applicants to hire.
“One of the challenges for student teaching, or student ed programs in general, is that it can be expensive because you are still paying tuition, and you have all of these living expenses,” Cesaro said.
“To have $9,600 to support someone during their student teaching is amazing. It takes pressure off of the student as far as work goes and some of those financial obligations,” said Joseph Lubig, a professor and associate dean in the School of Education at Northern Michigan University.
“When they’re student teaching, they are living the life of a full-time teacher,” he said.
Having a program such as the Future Educator Stipend makes the professional development experience more comfortable for student teachers, supporters say.
“The folks that are eligible for the stipend are teaching in Michigan public schools or charter schools, and a lot of them are moving to new towns. That’s stressful enough, but then imagine if they had to go out and find a job. It takes some of that stress away,” said Lubig.
Stipends are available to students who qualify based on financial need, much like need-based scholarships are, Cesaro said.
Many applicants don’t receive the full $9,600 because they already get some sort of assistance or scholarship that covers the rest of their tuition, but they still may receive a partial stipend.
Students can check whether they qualify and can apply on the Michigan Student Aid website.
The website says, “We anticipate available funding can support all eligible student teachers.”
Some stipulations to the stipend include losing it if a student changes majors and is no longer in a student teaching position in a Michigan public school or school academy.
Applications for the current school year are open, and applications for the 2023-24 school year will open in May.
Teachers have been leaving the profession for a number of reasons. Many have safety concerns, others are overwhelmed by the job and some are not paid enough, according to Thomas Morgan, a communication consultant for the Michigan Education Association.
The MEA is the state’s largest union of teachers and other school personnel.
“A lot of veteran teachers and school employees have burned out. They have seen their schools underfunded for years, until recently. They have seen a lot of their rights in the workplace dismantled by the previous administration (of former Gov. Rick Snyder) and they have seen pay that is not competitive,” Morgan said.
“As a result, a lot of good educators just can’t do it anymore,” he said.
The average salary of a Michigan teacher is between $50,000 to $70,000 based on school classification, according to the Department of Education, with first-year teachers earning less.
Morgan said student teachers are “being thrown into a school with little support, sometimes because there’s a shortage of other teachers.”
The stipend can be used toward living expenses, tuition, child care and other allowable purposes, according to the Student Aid website.
Lubig said, “To know that these funds are going right to the student to use in a way they see fit, that’s a real advantage. It sends a message to students saying ‘We trust you. We trust you to make good decisions and use your resources to go do what you need to do.’”
“The students feel that it’s nice our state and our communities believe in them to invest in them. We want good people, so let’s remove some of the burden and help,” he said.