The Educator Shortage in Michigan

Posted by Adam Spina on 1/28/2020 7:05:00 PM

Over winter break the following editorial was published in the Lansing State Journal, written by Ingham County Superintendent Jason Mellema. The piece focuses on the labor market for educators in Michigan and the growing concern of a teacher shortage in our state. With permission, I am relaying this article as the issues it discusses are beginning to impact even very successful districts such as ours. While the solutions are indeed complex and multifaceted, I feel Mr. Mellema’s article provides appropriate situational awareness regarding the issues we face when trying to attract and retain the very best educators and administrators to serve our students here in Williamston. 

Keep reading after the conclusion of the article for a unique way to recognize an educator at WCS who has been influential in the education of your child or has contributed in other ways to the success of the District and the Williamston Community.    

Teacher Shortage Creates Problems; Let's Focus on Solutions

With the economy roaring and unemployment at historic lows, many industry sectors are struggling to find great employees. The education community has been hit with the same challenges. In addition, the pipeline for future educators – teacher preparation programs – have seen a dramatic decrease in student enrollment. Data from the U.S. Department of Education, shows Michigan has had an over 70% decrease in enrollment in teacher preparation programs between the 2008-09 and 2016-17 school years. To be blunt, we have a teacher shortage problem.

In a 2017 white paper published by the Michigan Department of Education, Trends in Michigan Teacher Certification, 9,964 initial certificates were issued for teachers during the peak school year of 2003-04. By 2015-16, the number of initial certificates had dropped 62% to 3,696. According to count data on, the student population dropped approximately 11% during the same time period. This has led to a significant increase in long-term substitutes in the classroom with a cost to the quality of education for students. A recent long-term substitute study by Bridge Magazine reports that, “more than 2,500 Michigan classrooms were led by long-term substitutes who weren’t certified teachers in the 2018-19 school year – a stunning tenfold increase in just five years.” Many of these long-term subs aren’t highly qualified or certified, but rather people who are interested in helping kids. This makes a difference in the quality of education our students are receiving.

Unlike the private sector, education does not have the ability to increase pay by producing more widgets, nor raise prices on our product – the student and their families – to reflect high demand. Rather, funding is tied to the per-pupil aid determined by our legislators and the number of students we are serving.

Further complicating the matter are changes our legislators made to overall benefits, restrictions on school retirees entering the classroom, approximately 100 new public school academies/charters since 2003-04, competition between districts for staff and those educators that have left the profession. Noting the challenges impacting the ecosystem, waiting for the dust to settle seems like professional malpractice as current students are stuck.

So how do we solve this?

While the teacher shortage has been exacerbated in recent years, the reality is that it has taken us years to get to this point, and it will take a concerted effort and time to improve. The issue becomes focusing on what we can control. K-12 public school districts have been partnering with higher education institutions and research partners to help with preparation for those coming into the field. Within Ingham Intermediate School District and throughout the state, conversations are happening about how to improve onboarding programs and retention of staff. We continue to reach out and encourage our legislators to help find solutions to allow retirees back into the profession, especially in critical shortage areas like special education and math. Finally, if we can all agree on the goal of our children having a world-class education that allows them to reach their dreams, we must recognize that improving perception around public education is about us – all of us – within our community.

Collectively, we can make a difference. Drop a note of thanks to teachers who work tirelessly, a simple thank you to the staff who work to keep the building and grounds clean, or a handshake to the administration are all ideas to help educators know that you appreciate what they do. Please join me in recognizing the educators who are making a positive impact on students every day.


Jason Mellema,


Ingham Intermediate School District


Despite the very real challenges Mr. Mellema presents, we are fortunate to have a talented and dedicated team of educators at WCS. Join me in recognizing those who are making that “positive impact” right here in Williamston by nominating them for a Hornet Award. Hornet Awards support the Williamston Schools Foundation and are a great way to say “thank you” to a teacher, para-professional, secretary, custodian, bus driver, or any other member of the WCS team who is deserving of such an accolade. Hornet Awards can be ordered online at or by selecting the link here.

Hornet Award Nomination Form