News Story

TV News Crisis: Schools Get More Money and Teachers, But Fewer Kids

Whitmer seeks lavish bonuses to solve phantom staff shortage

WPBN-TV of Traverse City published a Jan. 12 story with the headline: “Crisis in the Classroom: Michigan schools staff shortages.”

The article stated that the Traverse City Area Public Schools district had closed classrooms and moved to online instruction due to staff shortages.

The district, however, has more employees now than it did in the previous school year. It also has fewer students.

The Traverse City district had the equivalent of 1,099 full-time employees during the 2020-21 school year, which was interrupted by COVID-19. That number increased to 1,131 this school year, even though there are 99 fewer students enrolled, making for a 1% drop.

There have been dozens of unchallenged claims made in media reports this year about staffing shortages, similar to the WPBN report. The Michigan Education Association released a survey in February that stated school staffing shortages had emerged as a top concern among educators, even surpassing the long-standing complaint about compensation.

But the data doesn’t support the claims of a statewide staffing shortage.

There are 8.4% more public school employees in 2021-22 than in 2016-17, when claims of a statewide teacher shortage surfaced. There were 192,881 full-time equivalent positions in 2016-17. That increased to 209,003 in 2021-22. Student enrollment, by contrast, dropped 5.8% over that span.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has proposed a billion-dollar solution to the alleged staffing shortage. In her recommendations for the 2023 fiscal year budget, Whitmer included a $2,000 bonus for every school employee, including teachers, aides, paraprofessionals, custodians, administrators, bus drivers and cafeteria workers. She also called for the state to pay another $2,000 bonus to each employee who comes back to work in 2023.

One policy expert, citing jobs data collected by the state of Michigan, said blanket retention bonuses are not justified. The Citizens Research Council of Michigan stated that Whitmer’s budget calls for a total of $2.3 billion in retention bonuses.

After noting the increased number of public school employees this year, the Citizens Research Council said, “It is hard to see the justification for the broad scope of the governor’s statewide school employee retention bonus spending proposal.”

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.