News Story

New Report Rebuts General Teacher Shortage Narrative

‘(H)ard to see the justification for the broad scope of the governor’s ... bonus spending proposal’

On Jan. 11, 2022, the Michigan State Board of Education issued a press release encouraging the state to spend up to $500 million to address what it called a teacher shortage.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer upped the ante in February by asking legislators for $2.3 billion for this purpose.

An analysis by the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, however, questions the claim that there is a widespread shortage of teachers and other school staffers. A summary of the analysis states, “Given this evidence, as well as the student-staffing ratio trends discussed here, it is hard to see the justification for the broad scope of the governor’s statewide school employee retention bonus spending proposal.”

The report concludes, “From the data and research reviewed, it is hard to see that there is a general, statewide school staffing crisis.” The research group expects statewide student-to-staff ratios to continue to decline as student enrollment falls, leaving fewer students for each staffer.

The report says that some specialty positions are hard to fill, and targeted interventions, rather than a universal one, are the solution. It notes that $1.5 billion of Whitmer’s $2.3 billion public schools spending plan would be for employee bonuses.

“To be sure, many schools across Michigan are finding it difficult to retain staff in certain positions. But this is not a new problem. Nor is it a statewide problem as the governor’s spending proposal suggests by providing bonuses to nearly every school employee in the state,” the CRC report states.

There were, according to the report, 96,162 full-time Michigan public school teachers in the 2021-22 school year. That number grew to 100,636 teachers in 2021-22, a 5% increase in one year. Overall staffing numbers, which include teachers, paraprofessionals, and food service staff, increased by 11,000 in the same time frame, returning these numbers to pre-pandemic levels.

While the state has seen an increase in teachers hired, K-12 student enrollment has declined over the past 10 years, falling from 1.57 million in 2012-13 to 1.44 million in the current school year.

With the number of teachers increasing, even in the face of an ongoing enrollment decline, the student-to-teacher ratio dropped from 16 students per teacher 10 years ago to 14.3 students per teacher in the current school year. The national average is 15.8 students per teacher.

The report notes that targeted intervention is also the appropriate way to address ongoing personnel shortages, such as in special education, technical education and teaching in urban areas. Such measures will save taxpayer dollars and will focus official efforts on retaining and recruiting for schools and positions that are the most difficult to keep fully staffed.

The Citizens Research Council of Michigan is among the most respected research organizations in the state. In 2009, Center for Michigan founder Phil Power wrote an op-ed titled “Citizens Research Council is the sharpest, most unbiased analysis of state government.”

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.