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Michigan teachers are priceless sources of inspiration and talent. Let’s treat them as such.

Republicans have continued their quest to systematically dismantle public education and the teaching profession for the past seven years. They have consistently passed laws that have attacked teachers’ salaries, pensions, health care and collective bargaining agreements, negatively impacting our teachers’ ability to perform essential job functions in the classroom.

Michigan teachers need our support — including financial backing. We need to ensure that all teachers feel supported and respected here in Michigan, and the teaching profession needs to be restored as a valued occupation, with a state balance sheet to back them up.

Like our kids, qualified teachers need tools to learn, grow and thrive. As the central hubs of the classroom, their needs should be at the forefront of our conversations about public education — which is why we’ve crafted a comprehensive package of bills, TeA+chers for Michigan, designed to prepare, attract and retain the best and brightest educators right here in the Great Lakes State.

The 2018-19 state budget for K-12 education funding is a good first step. Our budget inclusions signal that Michigan Republicans are willing to take us seriously.

We’re already seeing the beginnings of our plan come to fruition. Childcare workers will be able to receive tuition reimbursements as part of the TEACH Michigan program. This ensures that all children up to the age of eight can receive a high-quality early education with the best early educators in the state. The budget also includes funding for teacher recruitment in underserved populations — which ensures that students in every corner of the state will get high-quality teachers.

We know that attracting qualified educators continues to be a problem for many Michigan school districts, and the numbers don’t lie. According to a 2017 Michigan Department of Education report, issued teacher certificates are down 62 percent since 2004, while the number of students in classrooms has only declined 14 percent within that same time period.

To help address this lopsided ratio, we crafted bills in our TeA+chers for Michigan plan that would ensure districts are able to meet staffing needs by rewarding teachers for going into shortage areas or highly desired fields. For example, at economically disadvantaged schools — meaning where at least 60 percent of students are enrolled in free, or reduced, lunch programs — teachers would be offered incentives including one-time bonuses, student loan forgiveness, or an annual bonus if they teach in the fields of math, science or special education.

All of these incentives to prepare and attract the best and brightest teachers would be lost if we didn’t also work to retain them. Currently in Michigan, there are nearly 105,000 working-age people with a valid teaching certificate who are not working in a public school classroom.

We need stronger leadership, at all levels, to make sure that we support our teachers. Our TeA+chers for Michigan plan would make sure our educators feel valued.

We have an opportunity, right here and right now, with this comprehensive TeA+chers for Michigan bill package to ensure that our students get nothing less than the best educators at the head of their class.

Sen. Hoon-Yung Hopgood of Taylor is Democratic vice chairman on the Senate Education Committee. Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, is minority floor leader. 

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