Could Michigan's teacher shortage get worse in the coming years?

'We will emerge from a pandemic. It is likely we will not emerge from a teacher shortage as quickly.'
Posted at 12:12 PM, Jan 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-24 17:41:15-05

(WXYZ) — Nationwide, there are two trends we are seeing that are impacting your children today and potentially in the future. 

COVID-19 has led to early retirements or staff absences due to illness, leaving many children without a teacher in the classroom on many days. In New Mexico, the governor responded to a lack of school staff by calling in the National Guard last week. 

The shortage of teachers could get worse. A Learning Policy Institute survey recently found nearly half (48% ) of teachers said they had considered changing jobs within the last month. 

In Santa Fe, New Mexico, they're feeling the struggle.

"We have classes that are just sitting in gyms," said Mary Bisol, a teacher at Rio Rancho Public Schools.

The National Guard responded to a massive teacher and substitute shortage caused by COVID-19 cases to keep schools open as teachers are stretched thin.

“We have kids emailing, begging for help and it's the hardest thing when all you're there for is the kids," said Bisol.

Now, 7 Action News has learned that as omicron surged in Michigan some asked Governor Whitmer if she, too, could call in the National Guard to help keep schools open. She chose to temporarily allow school employees and others without the typically required college credits to sub. Her office says 98% of schools are open for in-person learning and  provided WXYZ a statement saying  in part: “To help keep schools open, Governor Whitmer signed into law the largest K-12 investment in our state’s history, which could be used to hire additional staff or fill other critical needs.”

"There might be individual in the National Guard who could come in and do it. But for a majority of people, education is not something you can just come in and do," said Dr. Amy Kruppe, Hazel Park Superintendent.

Dr. Kruppe understands the decision not to call in the National Guard to Michigan. But, there have been days of crisis.

"We had almost 77 staff members, including teachers out. That is a quarter of our staff," she said.

Unlike some districts, her district has managed to remain open this month. She is calling on state lawmakers to take action to help schools

"One of the greatest stressors that we hear from our teachers is the evaluation and the growth component of the evaluation," said Dr. Kruppe.

Rochester Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Robert Shaner agrees.

"It is hectic, right. I was in an elementary school yesterday. The principal was substituting in PE. And then in 3rd grade. And then supervising lunch," he said.

He says principals will somehow comply with the law and evaluate teachers in person, grading them on whether they have 40% student growth, unless the law changes. He says in a year where many students and teachers had weeks of absences due to COVID-19, perhaps the law should change.

"But we have to ask ourselves, should we be focused on the classroom and supporting our students or should we be focused on an act of compliance that is only an act of compliance," said Dr. Shaner.

School leaders say what we are experiencing now due to COVID-19 is an acute challenge, but it also reveals what a long term issue could soon feel like. 

They say there are numerous signs a severe chronic teacher shortage is looming.

"We will emerge from a pandemic. It is likely we will not emerge from a teacher shortage as quickly," said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice.

He says the numbers of people becoming teachers show the problem. And the data from the U.S. Department of Education shows reasons for concern. In the 2013-14 school year, 4,720 people in Michigan completed teacher education programs. Six years later, the number is less than half, only 2258.

"What we produce in the state is not enough to serve the state, number 1. What we recruit from out of state is not enough to serve the state," said Dr. Rice.

To address it, the Michigan Department of Education Sent a Request to Lawmakers. It is asking for $300 million to $500 million to spend on teacher recruitment over the next five years. The money could make scholarships, teacher internship stipends, and tuition reimbursement possible. It could fund programs to ease restrictions on out-of-state teacher licenses. And help parents attend college to become teachers with childcare reimbursement. Dr. Rice says the passage is urgently needed within the next 2 months.

"If these funds aren’t made available by the state legislature before the summer or worse, still aren’t made available at all, we will not be able to affect next school year, we will not be able to affect the school year and will relive some version of this next year. Not acceptable. Not what we ought to do," said Dr. Rice.