Seven years ago, Darrin Camilleri was a fresh college graduate and newly hired as a teacher with no textbooks, no curriculum, and a big job on top of his teaching duties: department chair. Now he’s a state representative hoping to be part of making “transformational change” in the education profession.
Camilleri (D-Trenton) and other Democratic House lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled a package of 18 bills that were introduced this week to improve the professional landscape and better recruit, respect and retain classroom educators in Michigan.
“There was a time when Michigan was the envy of the world in terms of education and teacher pay and benefits, but over the last few decades we know that has changed,” Camilleri said at a press conference announcing the bills. “If we want our best and brightest to become teachers and keep them in the classroom, we need to take decisive action now to respect and value the profession.”
Various proposals in the Respecting Educators Package would offset student loan debt, reduce the cost of health care benefits, amend the third grade reading law, remove student test scores from educator evaluations, and create a paraprofessional-to-teacher pathway, among other ideas.
“It’s our duty to make sure that every child has the opportunity and the resources they need to succeed, but it can’t happen without great teachers and great educators in our schools,” Camilleri said.
MEA member Anthony Barnes spoke at the press conference in support of the comprehensive bill package. “I have seen some amazing educators leave the field of education because they cannot support themselves or their families financially, they do not feel respected, and the burnout rate is super high.”
Barnes, a sixth-year special education teacher in Kalamazoo, noted historically high rates of educators leaving the profession – including a 40% spike amid the pandemic last fall and winter – coupled with dwindling enrollments in teacher preparation programs in colleges and universities across the state.
“I’m still in grad school right now, so my student loan debt is still growing,” Barnes said. “Let me tell you, it is stressful, and my pay doesn’t really help compensate me for that – even though I’m working every day to better myself so I can better our education system.”
Two bills in the package address the student loan problem. House bill 5099, sponsored by Camilleri, would create a student loan forgiveness program for eligible teachers that covers up to $300 per month in student loan payments as long as the recipient remains in the field. Another bill from Rep. Brenda Carter (D-Pontiac), HB 5100, would amend the tax code to make student loan payments tax free.
AFT-Michigan member Kathi Martin also spoke in support of the bills. The 18-year veteran speech and language pathologist from Dearborn and her special education teacher-husband together make $1,000 in student loan payments per month, she said.
That burden – combined with falling take-home pay and rising costs over the past decade – forced her to take on a second job, which cuts down on the time she has to prepare for students outside of work hours. She could make better pay outside of the education field, she noted.
The Respecting Educators Package addresses those issues from a few directions. HB 5106, sponsored by Rep. Mari Manoogian (D-Birmingham), would require school districts to pay a larger share of educator health care premiums by mandating a 90-10 hard cap until cost is 10% greater than cap.
Dubbed a “fair pay” proposal, HB 5109 – sponsored by Rep. Kelly Breen (D-Novi) – would create a three-tiered best practice bonus system ($20, $30, and $35 per pupil) based on whether teachers receive 95%, 100% or 110% of the average salary of like-educated individuals in their area.
HB 5102, sponsored by Rep. Abraham Aiyash (D-Hamtramck), would allow funds designated to specific schools from taxes to be allocated to reimburse state-certified teachers for out-of-pocket expenses. And its companion from Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township), HB 5103, would allow taxpayers an above-the-line deduction from adjusted gross income for contributions to the Local Teacher Supply Reimbursement Program Act.
Finally, along the lines of cutting educator expenses, HB 5110 – sponsored by Rep. Christine Morse (D-Texas Township) – would require the state to pay for teacher certification and recertification fees.
“We can’t rely on considering education their calling as the sole motivation to recruit teachers who are the heart of our education system,” Morse said at the press conference. “It’s not a sustainable model. We need to treat teaching like the skilled profession it is and not a passion project.”
In addition to financial strain, Dearborn’s Martin pointed out, educators are experiencing the loss of joy and creativity – replaced by the pressures of standardized testing and ill-conceived mandates such as the third grade reading law, which requires testing throughout the year and retention of youngsters based on one test score.
“Removing fun from learning and replacing it with useless tests is harming our students and killing morale amongst teachers, which is trickling down to the younger generations,” she said. “We are finally seeing the impact of the attack on public education that has been taking place for the past 15 or so years.
“When a profession is belittled, scapegoated, and villainized the way educators have been, can you blame people for leaving or not even entering teacher education programs in the first place?”
Four bills in the package address third grade reading and assessments. HB 4574, sponsored by former educator and MEA member Rep. Nate Shannon (D- Sterling Heights), would allow teachers to use discretion when deciding whether to retain a student not reading at grade level by third grade.
House Bill 5101, sponsored by Rep. Cara Clemente (D-Lincoln Park), would amend requirements for early literacy screening to allow for teachers’ professional judgment.
While teachers do not receive enough credit for all they do, paraprofessionals get even less, said former teacher and MEA member Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth), touting his bill to create a tuition-free pathway for paras to earn their teacher certification.
“Our parapros are the ones who work with each student individually to ensure they can succeed,” Koleszar said in announcing the package on Facebook. “My bill, HB 4369, creates a pipeline for parapros to earn their full teaching certification, resulting in more passionate, qualified educators inside our classrooms.”
Another proposal to build a pipeline of future teacher candidates was introduced at the press conference by Rep. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing), who noted that she brought two of her former teachers as special guests when she was sworn in for her first full term in the Legislature in 2019.
“They shaped and molded me into the woman I am today, and oftentimes we forget that,” Anthony said. “Those of us in the halls of power have a responsibility… to step up to the plate. Each and every child deserves access to an excellent neighborhood public school so they have the opportunity to grow and lead fully successful lives, but none of that can happen without our educators.”
Anthony’s bill, HB 5107, would create a career-technical program in teacher preparation that allows high school students to work toward meeting teacher certification requirements through courses and experiential learning.
“This package won’t fix every problem that we’re facing with one fell swoop, but it is an important first step toward a path of creating the strongest education system possible,” Anthony said. “It shows that we value our educators the same way we value other skilled, educated professionals by paying our educators appropriately, by respecting them, and truly treating them as the experts they are in the field.”
Other bills in the Respecting Educators Package would:
- Remove the student growth component from teacher evaluations – HB 5104 and 5106 by former teacher and MEA member Rep. Lori Stone (D-Warren) and Rep. Laurie Pohutsky (D-Livonia);
- Create a $25 per pupil categorical for districts that lower their teacher-pupil ratio from the prior year, prioritized for districts with the highest ratios first – HB 5111 by Rep. Helena Scott (D-Detroit);
- Require school improvement plans to include individualized professional development plans for teachers – HB 5108 by Rep. Kara Hope (D-Holt);
- Require teacher preparation programs to include a course on classroom management – HB 5112 also by Stone; and
- Require classroom management training for substitutes – HB 5113 by Rep. Regina Weiss (D-Oak Park).