Michigan schools may lose more than 5,000 teachers due to funding shortfalls, report says

An empty class with a teacher's desk and chair in the background with two rows of desks and chairs in the foreground.
A new analysis finds that Michigan schools may need to cut 5,100 teaching positions to balance their budgets as federal COVID relief funding ends. (Getty Images)

Michigan schools could lose up to 5,100 teaching positions in the next two years due to the end of federal COVID relief funding and a potential stagnation of state revenue growth, according to an analysis released Wednesday.

School districts with enrollment declines will likely be the ones most affected.

“When we look at which individual districts have felt the brunt of enrollment declines, many are the same districts that got large federal allocations,” said Craig Thiel, research director of the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, the nonpartisan not-for-profit public affairs research organization that released the analysis.

As the 2024-25 budget cycle begins, the state has begun to see some of the effects of the funding cliff, the end of billions of dollars in federal funding schools received during the pandemic. Districts are facing difficult decisions. Ann Arbor Public Schools has warned of a $25 million shortfall. The Flint Community Schools Board this year rejected a deal that would have restored annual salary increases for teachers, saying a $14 million operational deficit left no room in the budget.

Last year, the Detroit Public Schools Community District announced layoffs, cutting around $300 million from its 2023-24 budget. Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said the district deliberately earmarked more than half of the federal funds it received for one-time expenses to avoid widespread layoffs. It spent around $700 million on long-needed school building renovations.

Additionally, the increase in the money the state has allocated to schools from one-time revenue surpluses is projected to slow down in the coming years, according to the CRC analysis.

School districts used the $5.6 billion in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding, or ESSER, to pay for programs and hire staff to meet students’ needs in recovering from learning loss. Those dollars – which in many cases were used to hire additional teachers, social workers, counselors, nurses, tutors, and other staff – will run out in September.

“Where we sit today, not only do schools see the importance of having those positions, but so do parents,” said Bob McCann, executive director of the policy group K-12 Alliance of Michigan, which advocates for school funding priorities in the state legislature.

Combined revenue for Michigan K-12 public education increased from $15.1 billion in the 2018-19 school year to $19.8 billion in the 2022-23 school year, a 31% jump in funding, according to the report. But those temporary extra dollars can’t continue to pay for ongoing programs and services.

The analysis calculated that up to 5,100 teachers may need to be cut to get back to the same staffing levels that existed before the federal relief funding. That would be a 10% decrease compared to current ratios.

The extra money ESSER gave to schools was a “band-aid” on Michigan’s long “broken” school funding system, said McCann.

“We knew we couldn’t count on ESSER forever,” McCann said. “That doesn’t mean those services aren’t still desperately needed by students.”

Though students have made some year-over-year gains in state assessment scores, proficiency rates in core subjects remain below pre-pandemic levels.

Based on last year’s state test scores, Michigan students in grades 3-7 were still behind in math and English language arts compared to pre-pandemic levels. And the gaps between the lowest and highest performing K-8 students were wider than they were before COVID on benchmark tests given each spring from 2020 through 2023.

Research suggested a mental health crisis among youth before the pandemic, but the trauma, loss, and isolation brought on by COVID compounded it. Educators and advocates in Michigan say there currently aren’t enough staff to address students’ social and emotional needs, despite schools hiring more than 1,300 additional mental health professionals since 2018.

Thiel said districts may have to decide between letting go of teachers in the classroom or the support staff who aren’t in classrooms but either work directly with kids or help teachers improve instruction. There isn’t much room to cut administrative roles, he said.

“The administrative group is a small piece of the pie,” said Thiel. “The ranks of those people didn’t grow that much and may have shrunk over this period in a number of districts.”

Long-term investments from the state are needed to fully address students’ needs, said Robert Dwan, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Michigan School Business Officials, in an email.

McCann agreed.

“Our hope is that state officials find ways to make investments in public education, not just one time, but thinking long term,” he said.

Hannah Dellinger covers K-12 education and state education policy for Chalkbeat Detroit. You can reach her at hdellinger@chalkbeat.org.

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