Teacher Bonuses, Better Mental Health Care, Expanded Preschool: Inside Gov. Whitmer’s New Plan to Improve Education

By Keya Vakil

February 8, 2022

“Staff shortages, quarantine, increased trauma and learning loss make this job harder than ever. We have to do more to deliver for the Michiganders who show up for our kids every day,” Whitmer said in a statement to the Associated Press.


Need to Know

  • Whitmer’s plan would give teachers and school workers annual $2,000+ bonuses and create scholarship programs to recruit teachers, school leaders, and mental health professionals.
  • It would expand mental health programs, high-quality preschool, and before- and after-school programs.
  • Teacher retirements were up 40% at the end of the 2020-21 school year and one in five new teachers is leaving the profession within their first five years.

MICHIGAN—It’s often said that your budget reflects your values. If that’s the case. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s new education proposal suggests she is committed to investing in the success of Michigan students, teachers, and families.

Whitmer will introduce an $18.4 billion education budget on Wednesday that seeks to address teacher shortages, help recruit and retain school staff, help students recover from the mental toll of the pandemic, and expand programs for toddlers. 

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Whitmer’s budget would increase the per-pupil base funding by 5% over the current year. In total, her budget plan would represent a roughly 8% increase over the current fiscal year’s education budget and comes weeks after economists projected Michigan would have a $5.8 billion surplus.

Here’s some of what Whitmer’s proposal would do:

  • Give teachers and school workers a $2,000 bonus this year and next, with larger bonuses in 2024 and 2025.
  • Establish a $250 million fund to create scholarships for individuals seeking a teacher certification and a $50 million scholarship program for school leaders and mental health professionals. 
  • Invest $361 million to hire hundreds of school mental health professionals to expand mental health programs in schools.
  • Invest $222 million in school programs to help students from low-income homes and $150 million for those with special education needs.
  • Expand funding for the Great Start Readiness Program, Michigan’s free high-quality preschool program to care for more 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families.
  • Provide more money to expand before- and after-school programs for children.

Whitmer’s plan comes at a time when schools are struggling to retain teachers fleeing the profession after years of low pay, pandemic burnout, and most recently, the ongoing culture war over how race is taught in classrooms.

“Staff shortages, quarantine, increased trauma and learning loss make this job harder than ever. We have to do more to deliver for the Michiganders who show up for our kids every day,” Whitmer said in a statement to the Associated Press.

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Teacher retirements were up 40% at the end of the 2020-21 school year and one in five new teachers is leaving the profession within their first five years, according to the Michigan Education Association (MEA). 

“We are losing about 10,000 school employees in our state each year and we’re gaining about 5,000 coming into the forces every year,” MEA spokesman Thomas Morgan told The ‘Gander.

The issue is so dire that State Superintendent Michael Rice has called the teacher shortage “the single greatest issue facing Michigan schools and schoolchildren.”

MEA President Paula Herbart believes Whitmer’s plan would go a long way to helping recruit and retain teachers.

“Governor Whitmer’s bold plan is the most transformational investment in public education we have seen in decades,” Herbart said in a statement. “The governor’s budget proposal attacks Michigan’s acute educator shortage head-on, and her plan will make a real difference in recruiting, retaining and respecting educators to help every student succeed.”

An estimated 330,000-plus school workers could be eligible for the bonuses, including 110,000 teachers. First-year teachers would also be eligible for bonuses. 

Whitmer’s plan is subject to approval from the Republican-led legislature. State Sen. Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) already made clear there’d be some changes to Whitmer’s proposals, promising a “rigorous give and take” during negotiations. 

Author

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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