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Michigan's teacher shortage is 'scary,' MEA says, as new school year begins

Michigan saw a 40% increase in teacher retirements at the end of last year. While COVID-19 is a significant factor, other variables have led to the shortage.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Just days before the start of a new school year in Michigan, districts throughout the state are facing a familiar problem - a teacher shortage, and things may get worse before they get better, according to the Michigan Education Association (MEA).

When the 2020-21 school year ended last spring, teacher retirements were up 40% from the previous year, according to the MEA. Additionally, 1 in 5 new Michigan teachers are leaving the profession in their first five years.

"The COVID-19 pandemic is a big reason why this problem exists," said David Crim, MEA spokesperson. "Honestly, it's exacerbated the problem."

Crim says signs of a teacher shortage in Michigan actually started a decade ago, and it has a lot to do with the significant decline in college students choosing not to pursue a career path in education.

"Colleges and universities of education from around the state are down 50 to 60% in enrollment," Crim said. "All of those colleges that produce teachers are the ones that feed into our classrooms."

Another critical factor leading to the shortage, according to Crim, is the starting salary for new teachers in Michigan.

"Michigan is currently ranked 41st in the nation, among the 50 states, in starting pay for teachers," he added. "When these teachers come out, and are only able to make a salary on the mid-30s [$30,000], they can't make ends meet, not only in terms of every day survival, but also having to pay off their student loans."

Two bills have been presented to policy-makers and are currently making their way through Michigan's legislature. One bill is to increase teacher's starting salaries and the other is to help with student loan debt.

"If these bills pass, that will help keep these young teachers in the classroom," Crim said. "And it would significantly improve our ability to attract the best and brightest in colleges and universities to go into the teaching profession."

Crim says another concern is that many protest groups may be influencing school boards across the state to not institute safety measures such as masks, vaccines and testing.

"If that happens, it will lead to quarantining again," Crim said. "What these groups want is not to have masks, vaccines or testing, and what they don't want is a return to virtual learning which is exactly what we're going to get if they get their way."

The largest school district in West Michigan is Grand Rapids Public Schools which announced recently it was looking to fill over 200 teaching positions and staff vacancies ahead of the 2021-22 school year. 

13 ON YOUR SIDE reached out to GRPS spokesperson John Helmholdt, asking the status of the hiring process and how many positions have been filled, but he declined comment.

The new school year for GRPS begins Monday, August 23.

RELATED: Kent, Ottawa County Health Depts. order masks for all in Pre-K through 6th grade

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