News Story

Michigan Teacher Shortage Turns 102 Years Old

Shouldn’t we have run out of teachers by now?

A Michigan newspaper reported that teachers’ salaries have not kept pace with the high cost of living or the available in other fields of labor. This has created a teacher shortage, the newspaper stated:

“Consequently many teachers have left the profession and gone into other work of various kinds because they could make more money,” the publication reported. “Frequently the best teachers are the ones who have left the profession because they have been able to command exceptional salaries elsewhere.”

That article was published April 16, 1920, in the Charlevoix County Herald.

The debate over pay for public school teachers in Michigan is more than 100 years old. And the talking points have remained the same.

Last year, WXMI-TV produced a story about a teacher shortage and low pay for educators.

The article quoted Blake Mazurek, a teacher at the Grandville Public School District who is also a board member of the Michigan Education Association and president of the Grandville teachers union local.

“I knew I wasn't going to be rich like Bill Gates, right. But I also knew that there were going to be other benefits to the job beyond the actual teaching itself. But for to care for my family with insurance or a pension and things like this, which are, in some cases much diminished compared to 20 years ago, for new incoming teachers and all, you know, take those things in combination. It makes the profession potentially less attractive for individuals looking to follow the path,” Mazurek said in the story.

Mazurek received $85,073 from his school district in 2020-21. News stories about claims of teacher shortages and low pay rarely if ever explore what would constitute reasonable expectations for compensation in a public school system. A survey of current and past pay levels suggests that Michigan’s teachers are more highly paid today than their predecessors.

The Livingston County Daily Press and Argus reported in June 1934 that the average teacher salary in Michigan in 1932-33 was $1,027.66. Adjusted for inflation, it translates to $21,705 in 2021 dollars. That was in the middle of the Great Depression.

The Lansing State Journal reported in December 1959 that the average teacher salary in Michigan was $5,500, the fifth-highest state in the country. That pay becomes $52,156 in 2021 dollars when adjusted for inflation.

The average teacher salary in 2020-21 for Michigan teachers was $64,237, according to the Michigan Department of Education.

Michigan school districts also provide generous health insurance and other fringe benefits. School employees hired before February 2018 are eligible for a traditional defined benefit pension. For example, a teacher who worked 30 years at Troy Public Schools and received the $98,300 pay specified as the top of the local union scale would receive an annual pension of $44,200.

The state overhauled its pension system in 2017, after years of underfunding by past officials. By then the Michigan Public Schools Employees Retirement System’s pension fund was $24.2 billion short of the amount actuaries project will be necessary to meet its pension promises to employees. A new system that began in 2018 provides generous employer contributions (up to 7% of salary) to individual 401(k) retirement savings accounts.

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.