In the face of a growing teacher shortage largely caused by attacks on public education, Michigan Democrats recently unveiled a sweeping plan to restore respect and invest in supports for educators through a variety of avenues – salaries, pensions, health care, and more.
The “TeA+chers for Michigan” education plan introduced into the state Senate last week sets out to reverse Republican-led attacks on teachers and education support professionals in order to improve the state’s ability to attract and retain high-quality educators.
The plan unveiled at a press conference would address some long-held complaints of Michigan school employees by removing the hard cap on health care insurance for all school employees, eliminating MPSERS cost sharing, and amending the tiered teacher evaluation system.
“When it comes to educating our children, Republicans’ continual cuts have failed our teachers and our kids,” said Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood (D-Taylor), who hosted the press conference. “Michigan teachers need our support, and our kids simply deserve to have good schools with good teachers, which is why we’ve introduced our TeA+chers for Michigan plan.”
Republicans have controlled the executive and legislative branches of government in Michigan since 2011. The Democratic plan outlined by Hopgood and several House and Senate Democratic co-sponsors opens a conversation in a pivotal election year and reveals what the minority party would prioritize to help all school employees better serve students if given the reins of power.
“Great education starts with great teachers,” Rep. Christine Greig (D–Farmington Hills) said. “For too long, though, the State of Michigan has done everything it can to discourage and denigrate the teaching profession, which has scared off our best and brightest young people from pursuing a career in the classroom. These bills would encourage college students to follow their dreams of becoming teachers and put them on the path of becoming the kind of engaged, and excited, educators our kids need.”
The plan, made up of Senate Bills 25, 724-25 and 764-82, addresses teacher recruitment, preparation, support, and retention.
Future teachers would be encouraged and helped through supportive measures that include:
- Establishing an Underrepresented Teacher Recruitment Program, designed to assist education institutions in the recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups, with stipends offered to high school students interested in attending conferences focused on the teaching profession;
- Creating an Early Childhood Educators Act, that would provide scholarships to individuals who have worked for at least a year — and for 25 hours per week at a licensed childcare center, group home, or registered family home — to receive assistance in obtaining an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, or child development, at a participating college or university; and,
- Providing stipends for student teachers serving at economically disadvantaged schools — where at least 60 percent of students are enrolled in free, or reduced, lunch programs — with a stipend not to exceed $1,000 per academic year.
Also included in the bills are several incentives to attract teachers who consider serving in economically disadvantaged schools, such as:
- Allowing for up to 10 years of student loan debt forgivenessfor teachers who are in their first three years of teaching;
- Providing a one-time bonus between $3,000 to $5,000 for newly hired teachers, or a one-time relocation bonusfor teachers moving into a district; and,
- Awarding an annual bonus of $1,800 to math, science, and special education teachers.
Bills in the TeA+chers for Michigan education plan also aim to address the spectrum of problems that have plagued the retention issues seen in Michigan school systems in recent years, such as classrooms with too many students and school districts with too few teachers.
Some of the ideas and incentives introduced in the legislation include:
- Establishing Mentor Teacher Payby awarding an annual bonus between $500 to $2,000 per year to experienced teachers who mentor new teachers in their first three years of teaching;
- Creating a Teacher Recruitment and Retention Scholarship Fundthat would award scholarships of $1,000 per semester to full-time teachers attending master-level teacher education programs while serving in economically disadvantaged schools, and who are committed to serving four years of teaching post-graduation;
- Setting a teacher-student ratio of 1:20, or one teacher per every 20 students, for kindergarten through fourth grade, with the ratio increased to 1:25 if there is a full-time paraprofessional also working in the same classroom;
- Increasing the number of educators recognized as Teacher of the Yearto 13 recipients annually, and providing each with a $1,000 award to be used for professional development, further accreditations or classroom needs; and,
- Allowing certified teachers to request tuition reimbursement from the school districtfor credits taken to be awarded additional endorsements that will allow them to be qualified to teach in a critical shortage area.
“The profession of teaching needs to be restored with the right incentives and tools in order to make Michigan a place where people want to teach,” Sen. Hopgood said. “With the TeA+chers for Michigan plan, we can keep top-notch educators right here in Michigan so that we can cultivate the talent we already know we have — and set our students up for success in the process.”