News Story

Michigan Has More Teachers, Fewer Students

Numbers do not support claims of an educator shortage

A Kentwood Public Schools student who is in a program for prospective teachers is featured in a May 25 story from the nonprofit news site Chalkbeat Detroit. Though the story focuses on claims of a teacher shortage in Michigan, the Kentwood district has increased its number of teaching positions by more than a third over eight years, while barely enrolling more students.

Chalkbeat Detroit is not the only news agency positing an educator shortage in Michigan, but it has reported energetically and consistently on the issue.

“The state faces a teacher shortage at a most inopportune time: when students need more educational resources to catch up academically after two years of pandemic-related disruptions,” Chalkbeat Detroit stated in a report from early May.

Kentwood Public Schools has seen its teaching staff increase from 499.72 full-time-equivalents during 2013-14 school year to 672.01 FTEs in 2021-22. That’s according to the state of Michigan, whose definition of teachers is not precise and includes positions such as nurses, counselors and therapists. The numbers represent a 34% increase in teaching FTEs to match a 5% growth in enrollment over that eight-year period.

Kentwood is unusual in seeing student enrollment grow at all. Statewide, Michigan public schools continue to lose students while putting more teachers on the payroll.

Chalkbeat Detroit did acknowledge in the May 25 story that there are more teachers and fewer students today than in the past.

“Although Michigan’s teaching force is larger than it was a decade ago, and the student population is smaller, administrators struggle to get fully certified teachers in classrooms where they’re most needed, especially in disciplines such as special education and world languages,” it said.

Both claims are accurate.

Michigan Capitol Confidential put in Freedom of Information Act requests from 2015 to 2019 to dozens of school districts, asking for data on applications for teaching positions. The latest claims of a widespread teacher shortage started to appear in 2015. But there have been consistent claims of shortages in this state for more than 100 years.

The overwhelming trend on job applications reviewed over that four-year period is that teaching is still a popular profession but certain positions are hard to fill.

For example, the Troy School District had 2,045 applications for a single K-5 teaching position, where the average teacher salary was $79,043 in 2021. But many districts reported having few or no applications for some open positions, usually in special education and foreign languages. Some districts also report having a hard time filling and positions in technical fields.

“To be sure, many schools across Michigan are finding it difficult to retain staff in certain positions. But this is not a new problem,” the nonprofit Citizens Research Council of Michigan stated in March.

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.