Whitmer proposes $2K teacher retention bonuses, $435 increase in per pupil funding

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer will propose spending $2.3 billion over four years to recruit and retain teachers and other school staff in Michigan, trying to entice them with annual bonuses that would grow from $2,000 to $4,000 by 2025.

The governor's $18.4 billion education plan for the 2022-23 fiscal year also is expected to include more money to increase free preschool access, boost  per-pupil funding and support economically disadvantaged and special education students. 

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

MORE: How Gov. Gretchen Whitmer wants to address mental health in $18.4B school plan

The Democratic governor will present her proposed budget to lawmakers in the Republican-controlled Legislature on Wednesday. 

"Staffing shortages are making it harder for schools to help our kids get back on track," said Bobby Leddy, the Democratic governor's press secretary. "That’s why the governor is proposing incentives to recruit and retain top talent to our schools and classrooms."

The plan includes $1.5 billion for the retention bonuses over four years and would need approval from the Legislature amid a multibillion-dollar surplus in state tax revenues and billions of federal pandemic rescue dollars flowing to Michigan.

An estimated 330,000-plus school workers could be eligible, including 110,000 teachers.

Starting in the fall, every school staff member would receive $2,000, with another $2,000 if they return in fall 2023. An additional $3,000 would come in fall 2024 and $4,000 in fall 2025 for teachers and certified staff, including school counselors, social workers and nurses.

Part-time educators and staff would receive less based on their hours worked, according to the Associated Press. First-year teachers hired in coming years would be eligible for the bonuses, too. So would teachers who change districts and move to a high-poverty building.

Educator recruitment programs would receive $600 million and include scholarships for future educators and stipends for student teachers, with expanded programs in districts to recruit and train teachers from their own communities. 

Whitmer’s proposal comes after state Superintendent Michael Rice in November urged legislators to spend $300 million to $500 million over five years to recruit and retain educators. He suggested, among other things, tuition reimbursement for college students who pursue teaching and loan repayment for recent college graduates certified to teach.

Rice called the teacher shortage “the single greatest issue facing Michigan schools and schoolchildren.”

The governor's budget also includes $100 million for teacher onboarding and mentoring programs, and $75 million for "innovative approaches" to addressing regional education retention needs. 

Whitmer will ask that the vast majority of the $2.3 billion in funding, including $500 million of the $600 million for recruitment programs, be allocated in the current fiscal year rather than the budget starting this fall.

Staffing shortages in schools, including for teachers, counselors and bus drivers have been building for years because of a lack of investment in public education, according to Robert McCann, director of the K-12 Alliance of Michigan. 

"The pandemic has put a spotlight on the shortages," said McCann. "... By starting to show (teachers) that we're investing again, and we're investing in their careers and well-being and support that's going to help retain these teachers that are dealing with a lot inside and outside of the classrooms right now.”

Whitmer's proposal was also welcomed by the Michigan Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, and the Michigan Association of Superintendents & Administrators.

MEA President Paula Herbart said in a statement provided by the Whitmer administration it would attack the shortage head on, making a “real difference … to help every student succeed.”

Tina Kerr, executive director of the school executives group, said rebuilding the educator talent pipeline “is also an investment in our students, our economy and the future of our state.”

Mental health support is another item on the proposed budget, which includes $361 million earmarked for opening 40 school-based health clinics, expand access to mental health screenings for students and fund mental health professionals inside schools.

It is in addition to $9,135 per-student funding, a $435 increase or 5% hike, that aims to provide "more personalized learning," Leddy said. It is expected to cost $580 million and is part of nearly $1 billion in increased classroom funding that would include: 

  • $222 million to help economically disadvantaged students.
  • $150 million to aid special education students by increasing the reimbursement rate to 36% from 31%. 
  • $30.8 million for vocational education and career and technical education, including for additional equipment purchases.  
  • $5.3 million for increases for intermediate school district funding, English language learners supports, and students in rural and isolated districts.

The governor also plans to increase access to free preschool for income-eligible students. 

The proposed boosts would include: 

  • $72.6 million for preschool education programs, including $56 million for the Great Start Readiness Program, which provides free preschool for income-eligible 4-year-olds. The budget blueprint would build in the second year of a planned three-year expansion so all eligible 4-year-old children could participate. It would be funded entirely with state School Aid Fund dollars beginning in fiscal year 2023.
  • More money for early identification and intervention services for younger children through the Early On Program ($7.1 million) as well as through home visitation and early childhood collaborative efforts ($9.5 million). 
  • $50 million for before and after school programs. 

The proposed budget shows the governor is acknowledging what advocates have said about the challenges facing educators and school staff being "larger, and complex,” said Sara Lewandowski of the Michigan Association of School Psychologists, and not just a question of increasing staff salaries.

Lauren Mangus, MASP’s president, said she hoped there would be a focus on these challenges, including stress from the political climate surrounding COVID-19 and the debate around Critical Race Theory.

“Any financial bonuses are helpful,” Mangus said. “But even if you add money, which is great, because the pay in education is pretty low anyway … we need to make sure that the environments are safe and supportive, not just for students, physically and psychologically, but also for educators.”


Twitter: @HaniBarghouthi

David Eggert of the Associated Press contributed