By BRANDY MUZ
Capital News Service
LANSING – The number of future educators in Michigan is on the rise once again after a severe dip in enrollment in teaching programs.
The Michigan Department of Education says the state has the highest level of students preparing to become teachers since the 2013-14 school year.
The U.S. Department of Education reported that the 2021-22 school year saw a 5.5% increase in completion of educator preparation programs across the state.
Chandra Madafferi, the Michigan Education Association president, said the shortages have adversely affected public school students across the board, but some districts are struggling the most. The MEA is the state’s largest union of educators.
Madafferi said districts like Pontiac and Waterford have had staffing problems, with many unfilled spots in their classrooms.
“At the high school level, advanced math. We’ve also had a drop in men leaving the profession in all grade levels. And special education teachers are becoming harder to find,” she said.
Earlier this year, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a school aid budget that included $10,000 in tuition support per person for 2,500 future teachers.
Madafferi said the extra funding helps but is not the only way to fix the staffing shortages.
“The overarching reason is that over the last 10 years, there was such an attack on the profession legislatively, as well as lower paychecks that made people feel undervalued and disrespected, “ she said.
According to the National Education Association, Michigan teachers’ average starting salary is $38,963 a year, behind 38 other states.
“Public perceptions of the education profession haven’t improved matters,” Madafferi said, and negative opinions also deter potential new teachers. “A lot of our current educators talk other students, or people they know, out of becoming educators.”
In a move intended to help plug the staffing gap, bipartisan legislation that Whitmer signed Oct. 10 enables retired educators to fill empty positions and still get their retirement benefits.
Whitmer said, “We have made historic investments to open up the teacher pipeline and help more aspiring educators enter their dream career.”
Madafferi said she’s hopeful that the educator shortage will level out in coming years.
“I know that we have a lot of ground yet to cover and to move forward. However, we are seeing people interested in becoming educators again, feeling the calling,” she said.