Want More Substitute Teachers? Pay Them More

Michigan subs make nearly 20 percent less than the national average

University of Michigan economist Don Grimes has a simple solution to the substitute teacher shortage: Pay them more.

Grimes said substitute teachers are paid significantly less in Michigan than in other states, while school districts here use them far more than the U.S. average.

“The reason there is a shortage of substitute teachers in Michigan (and in the country as a whole) is that they are paid very poorly, barely more than a waiter and waitress and less than a preschool teacher,” Grimes said in an email. “The question is why don’t the school districts have more money to pay substitute teachers? If they paid them more, then I am sure the labor supply of substitute teachers would increase.”

Grimes also said Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that substitute teachers here are paid less than their counterparts elsewhere. In 2016, the median salary for the equivalent of a full-time substitute teacher in Michigan was $23,810. The national median was $28,010, or 18 percent more. The median pay for a full-time waiter or waitress was $19,170. The median salary for an elementary school teacher in Michigan was $61,650, according to Grimes.

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Michigan also uses far more substitute teachers than the national average, which Grimes said was surprising.

Last year, substitutes, numbering 22,530 people, were 18.0 percent of all K-12 teachers in  Michigan. That’s significantly higher than the national average of 12.3 percent.

“Looks to me like the school districts in Michigan are substituting cheaper substitute teachers for expensive ‘regular’ teachers,” Grimes said. “Looks like economics at work.”


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