Teacher Shortage Claims: Republicans Did It

Yet hundreds often apply for teacher openings, and 2,045 for one in Troy

In May 2017, the Troy School District received 2,045 applications when it advertised an opening for a K-5 teacher position.

This was an exceptionally high number of applicants, but it is not at all unusual for dozens or even hundreds to apply for public school teacher openings. That is notable in light of an ongoing partisan debate about whether the state of Michigan has a teacher shortage.

The claim may be politically motivated, as seen when liberal Michigan Public Radio columnist Jack Lessenberry blamed the Republican party for alleged declines in the teaching profession. Democrats and the teacher unions that contribute to them claim that a teacher shortage exists due to education reforms enacted earlier this decade by a GOP-controlled Legislature.

“You have spent the last seven years attacking teachers and cutting their salaries and benefits and pensions,” Lessenberry wrote Nov. 2. “What’s shocking is that any young people still become teachers after what all of you have done.”

Lessenberry failed to acknowledge in his article that large school districts around the state report receiving hundreds of applications for a single open position. Small districts report dozens of candidates for job openings, and sometimes much higher numbers.

Union officials and columnists have also promoted the inaccurate claim that many public school teachers have received pay cuts and are getting less.

“Now, many haven’t had a raise in five years,” Lessenberry wrote, linking to a report by Michigan Public Radio. But that report was based on a self-reporting MPR survey of Michigan schoolteachers that the news outlet itself called nonscientific. The actual salaries of Michigan teachers are available online, and they refute the survey’s claims.

Lessenberry did not want to comment when asked how there could be a teacher shortage when a school district like Troy reports an average of 57 applicants for each of the 89 teacher position openings posted in 2017.

“Since I have no information about the quality of the applicants, no, I cannot comment and stand by everything I said,” Lessenberry said in an email.

Lessenberry’s claim is instead based on a decline in the number of people getting a Michigan teaching certificate in the past few years.

In 2005-06, there was 8,666 people who graduated from Michigan’s colleges with a teaching degree. By 2015-16, that number had dropped to 3,595. There are currently 95,000 public school teachers in Michigan.

Teacher shortages do exist in some specialized fields. For instance, while Troy schools received, on average, 57 applicants per teaching position, no one applied for a “socio-emotional learning specialist” position. Many school districts have reported seeing low numbers of applicants for jobs in special education and some technical fields.

But Lessenberry's claim is that the entire teaching profession is no longer attracting interest. Many examples such at the Troy school district undermine this claim.

Lessenberry said that state lawmakers treat teachers with less respect than plumbers.

“Far too many Michigan lawmakers have the interesting attitude that we can treat the educated professionals we entrust with our children’s minds and futures with somewhat less respect than we show government clerks and plumbers,” Lessenberry said.

The average salary of plumbers in Michigan in 2016 was $59,220 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Lessenberry chastised Sen. Marty Knollenberg, a Republican from Troy, for not being aware of the alleged teacher shortage.

“Michigan has great teachers who are committed to their classrooms,” Knollenberg said in an email, when asked about the number of applicants at Troy from most recent school year. “And it’s encouraging that so many young professionals continue to be willing to take on this important task, despite what some in the media may say.”

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.