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Teachers union critical of new law aimed at addressing Michigan's teacher shortage

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A new law allows other school employees to work as substitute teachers until the end of the current school year to address a teacher shortage in the state.

A new law aimed at addressing Michigan’s teacher shortage has gotten a failing grade from the state’s largest teacher union.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed the bill last week. It allows school employees like secretaries and aides to work as substitute teachers until the end of the current school year.

Whitmer said the adjustment will keep schools open and let students learn from instructors they already know.

Paul Liabenow, the executive director of the Michigan Elementary and Middle School Principals Association, said they state "already faced a severe educator shortage prior to the coronavirus pandemic.”

“The pandemic has only exacerbated that shortage,” he said.

But the Michigan Education Association does not see this new law as the solution.

“We don’t ask trained, qualified teachers to drive 45-foot-long school buses, so why are we asking trained, qualified bus drivers to lead a classroom full of kids to teach fifth grade geometry? The two things just don’t go together,” said Thomas Morgan, MEA spokesman.

Morgan said the way to address Michigan’s teacher shortage is to improve teacher compensation.

Whitmer said she’s “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.”

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Radio since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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