News Story

More Michigan Teachers Per Student Now Than 10 Years Ago

A modest 2% decline in teacher numbers swamped by 8.6% plunge in enrollment

Despite a persistent teacher-shortage narrative coming from Michigan’s public school establishment and mainstream media outlets, data from the state’s education department tells a different story. The ratio of students to classroom teachers in the state’s K-12 public school system is lower today than at any time in the past 10 years.

The finding comes from an analysis of Michigan Department of Education school staffing and enrollment data, which shows there were 16.45 students for every classroom teacher in 2020-21. In the 2015-16 school year, when residents first began hearing repeated claims of a teacher shortage, the ratio was 17.50 students for every teacher.

The number of classroom teachers is slightly lower today than it was a decade ago, but the number of children enrolled in public schools is down even more. In 2012-13 there were 86,776 classroom teachers, and 84,998 in the 2020-21 year, a 2% decrease. But the number of students fell at a faster rate, going from 1,529,887 in 2012-13 to 1,398,455 in 2020-21, an 8.6% loss.

State data on the number of teachers, meanwhile, can be misleading.

For example, the Michigan Department of Education releases a workforce report every year, and the definitions of “teacher” are not precise.

In 2019-20, the department published a statewide teacher count of 108,801 “employed teachers.” But that figure is misleading because it includes counselors, nurses, social workers and therapists.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy undertook a more precise review of the data and found the number of what most people would define as “classroom teachers” is far lower than reported. The review found that the education department’s reported 108,801 statewide teachers in 2019-20 translates to 85,367, or 22% fewer than reported.

Using a more precise definition of classroom teacher, the Michigan public school student-teacher ratio was 16.45 students for every teacher in 2020-21. When the pattern of widespread “teacher shortage” reports began during the 2015-16 school year, there were 17.5 students per classroom teacher.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.