This post was originally published on Michigan Chronicle

By Roz Edward

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer recently signed House Bill 4294 to address the substitute teacher shortage, which would temporarily allow trusted staff members, such as secretaries, paraprofessionals, and others to work as substitute teachers until the end of the school year. 

“I am committed to working with the legislature to develop high-quality solutions to address these staff shortages long-term so that we can ensure that every child is able to access a quality education,” said Whitmer. 

The bill introduced by Rep. Brad Paquette is intended to allow schools to employ individuals without certification who are already on staff at the school to substitute teach in a valiant attempt to keep schools open and continue in-school learning for the state’s 1,437,612, according to March 2021 data posted by on the state’s website.

“Michigan already faced a severe educator shortage prior to the coronavirus pandemic,” said Paul Liabenow, Executive Director of the Michigan Elementary & Middle School Principals Association (MEMSPA). “The pandemic has only exacerbated that shortage by further hindering school districts’ abilities to fill vacant positions and keep buildings open, placing undue stress on educators already working tirelessly every day to ensure all students in Michigan receive quality, in-person instruction.”

The Detroit Public School Community District adopted a more aggressive and attractive  response to counter the lack of temporary teacher replacements for the city’s 109 public schools. They did it the old fashioned way – they paid for it.

To stave off the guest-teacher shortage, DPSCD offered new teachers a 33% boost in salary pay, raising first-year teachers’ salary pay to $51,071 at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. The average first-year teacher salary in Michigan was previously  $37,549, lower than in 40 other states. 

“The days of saying teachers do not want to work in DPSCD are over,” DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said in a tweet. What we’re trying to do is recruit teachers with experience from mainly metro Detroit districts and charter schools … I think that’s where the opportunity is highest to recruit,” he added.

Hazard pay will also be provided for all teachers and DPSCD employees, while an additional $2,000 will be available if a teacher must teach online due to quarantining students. 

Vitti also said the district has hired 100 more teachers to buffer it from retirements, while also decreasing the student-to-teacher ratio.

DPSCD’s student population of 49,593 is 98% minority. A teacher and substitute teacher shortage would profoundly impact an already burdened school system, add to the challenges of living in underserved communities and put thousands of Detroit students at risk of an overall decline in their prospects for the future.