In a Nutshell
- The State of Michigan has committed hundreds of millions of tax dollars in next year’s state budget to help alleviate key bottlenecks in the teacher pipeline.
- These investments mostly target the “supply side” of the school labor force equation by providing tuition assistance to ease the financial burden faced by aspiring teachers.
- Without the data to inform questions about teacher talent availability and needs (teacher shortages), the state’s planned multi-million-dollar investments look like a case of “READY, FIRE, AIM!”.
As summer turns to fall and Michigan school children return to the classroom, stories about K-12 staffing challenges are beginning to emerge across the state. As with previous years, including the last three marred by COVID-19 pandemic, today’s stories present a mixed-bag of good news and bad news for the prospects of public schools being fully staffed when the bell rings for the first day of instruction.
Consider the state’s largest school district. In recent years, many of the 49,000 students attending Detroit Public Schools Community District returned from their summer breaks to classrooms without a permanent, qualified teacher assigned to lead them. Things are different this year as district officials assure parents that all schools will be fully staffed with teachers. Still, leaders of other tough-to-staff districts/schools (i.e., high-poverty and rural), as well as specific classrooms (i.e., special education), will continue to fill vacant teaching positions with qualified staff well after the new school year begins.
Just as the ongoing teacher staffing situation playing out on the ground is a good/bad news story, so has been the state’s response for dealing with the challenges faced by districts. Looking at the good news, the State of Michigan has committed hundreds of millions of tax dollars in next year’s state budget to help alleviate key bottlenecks in the teacher pipeline. These investments mostly target the “supply side” of the school labor force equation by providing tuition assistance to ease the financial burden faced by individuals attending teacher preparation programs.
In terms of bad news (or the not-so-good news), the State of Michigan is making these new investments without a clear and full understanding of the nature and scope of the different staffing challenges faced by local districts. This is due, in large part, to the fact that the state has not invested in the data and information systems necessary to quantify the genuine extent of the problem(s) being addressed. To ensure an optimal allocation of teacher talent across districts, Michigan needs to know what talent is 1) available and 2) needed. Basically, data is needed related to both the “supply” of teachers and the “demand” for such talent. Without the data to inform questions about teacher talent availability and needs (i.e., shortages), the state’s planned multi-million-dollar investments look like a case of “Ready, FIRE, Aim!”.
Pipeline Investments Focus on Recruitment
In early July, lawmakers and Governor Whitmer negotiated a K-12 education spending plan for the upcoming year as well as supplemental appropriations for the current year. Included in the School Aid budgets for the next two years is $530 million for three new state initiatives targeting teacher workforce needs across Michigan’s public and private K-12 schools. This is the largest investment of its kind in the state’s history, dwarfing a previous $5 million appropriation for teacher retention bonuses for the 2020-21 school year during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. But unlike the previous investment that focused on retaining existing teachers, the new investments largely target recruitment and expanding the future supply of teachers coming from a key source – newly-minted educators.
As has been widely reported for many years, teacher preparation program enrollments and completions at Michigan institutions have been contracting for some time. While enrollments have started to increase in recent years, they are still down over 35 percent from where they were 10 years ago (chart below). The number of newly minted teachers each year, however, continues to decline, but this trend should reverse course soon with the recent increases in enrollment. Given the shrinking supply of new K-12 teaching talent being produced by the in-state teacher prep programs, the state’s new investments in recruitment efforts, rather than broad-based retention strategies (i.e., teacher bonuses), is an appropriate policy response. But the details of any response matter greatly to make the most out of the use of taxpayer resources
Enrollments and Completions at Michigan’s Teacher Preparation Programs
Source: U.S. Department of Education
Specifically, the current K-12 spending plan allocates $305 million for a new Future Educators Fellowship grant program. This is the state’s marquee teacher recruitment initiative, while another $175 million is earmarked for local districts to develop “grow-your-own” programs and $50 million is directed to support student teaching stipends. The Future Educators Fellowship program is modeled after the much less generous, but more targeted, federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program. That one provides grants of up to $4,000 per year to students who agree to teach in a high-need field, at a low-income elementary or secondary school for four years following graduation. The federal program is designed to incent future teachers to take jobs in the hardest to staff schools and classrooms.
Michigan’s new program is much more universal in its scope and will provide larger grants (up to $10,000 per year) to students enrolled in one of Michigan’s 38 teacher preparation programs (traditional and alternative route). Of the total funding, $25 million will be made available to students who enroll for their first semester in a teacher prep program this fall. That means the state money can assist up to 2,500 first-year students during the 2022-23 school year; currently enrolled students are not eligible for the assistance. Given the newness of the program, it is unknown whether the financial incentive will draw in additional students to pursue teaching degrees in the first year.
Eligible students will be able to renew a grant for up to three years, providing them with a maximum of $30,000 over the course of their training. In return, students must commit to teaching in any of the state’s public or private K-12 schools. Many of the state’s private schools face the same staffing challenges as public schools as they draw talent from the same pool. Future work commitments are based on the number of years a student receives state assistance; three-year commitment if awarded a grant for one year, four-year commitment if awarded a grant for two years, and five-year commitment if awarded a grant for three years. If a student does not maintain enrollment, does not successfully complete their training, or does not meet the post-graduation work commitment, the state funding they received converts to a no-interest loan that must be repaid within 10 years.
Ready, FIRE, Aim!
Michigan is relying on a fairly broad shotgun approach to increase the future supply of teachers in the state. This is unfortunate. The big investment in next year’s state budget is not focused on increasing the supply of the most in-demand teachers (e.g., special education, career technology, STEM, and English-learner) or those positions that schools have the hardest time recruiting and filling. In short, Michigan’s investments are not specific to particular teacher shortage areas. General, across-the-board solutions only make sense in a world where there is a documented generic teacher shortage. That is not the case today.
The only targeted component of the Future Educators Fellowship program relates to the post-graduation work requirement; new teachers that take a job in a low-income district will only have to commit to work in that district for three years, not five years, to avoid loan repayment. This aspect of the policy makes some sense in that it is designed to incent aspiring teachers to seek employment in schools that struggle to staff every classroom with a permanent, properly-credentialed teacher. Research shows that schools serving higher percentages of lower‐income students and students of color have been found to have higher teacher turnover rates, driving up classroom vacancies. However, a more targeted investment strategy would direct greater scholarship amounts to students that are pursuing teaching positions that are most in demand.
One reason why the state’s teacher recruitment investments aren’t more focused on the specific teacher shortage areas across the state is because of the lack of data to inform these policy decisions. Data and information pertaining to both the “supply” and “demand” for teachers is essential for well-functioning educator labor markets, but also for designing and implementing effective public policy interventions to address market disruptions. While Michigan does a good job of collecting information about the supply of teachers, that is not the case when it comes to data about teacher demand. And, more importantly, the state does not provide the data elements needed to match supply and demand. This is critical in determining whether a shortage exists.
In its recent analysis of the 50 states’ data collection practices related to teacher supply and demand, the National Council on Teacher Quality reports that Michigan only met three of the recommended six best practices. While the state was credited for its teacher supply data, data deficiencies were noted for key teacher demand elements, such as the number of teacher vacancies at the district/school level. Similar information voids are noted in a 2021 report about the state’s teacher workforce prepared by Michigan State University’s Education Policy Innovation Collaborative. It notes the state’s lack of demand data, such as classes taught by teachers who are not fully licensed or teaching outside of their credential. This report makes specific recommendations on how to improve and expand on the use of existing datasets maintained by the state, but also where new information should be collected.
Both of these reports echo a finding from our 2019 teacher workforce report that Michigan has not prioritized studying teacher labor markets and the shortage issue. As evidence, we pointed to the lack of available, timely and relevant information related to the various components of the educator labor force and the factors influencing them. Michigan has not engaged in the necessary work to identify statewide trends in teacher shortages and surpluses and whether those trends vary by teacher certification area, region of the state, district locale, and teacher demographics.
The state will spend over $500 million over the coming years on teacher workforce recruitment initiatives, $300 million of this is for student scholarships provided through the new Future Educator Fellowship program. A massive investment that, unfortunately, was made without complete information about the extent and scope of the problem being addressed. Moving forward, policymakers would be well served to make a relatively small investment in the teacher workforce data and information elements needed to ensure that the schools and classrooms facing the greatest staffing difficulties are prioritized. Until that time, any policy response will be a case of “Ready, FIRE, Aim!”