Low funding, staffing, absenteeism continue to impact schools post-pandemic

Posted at 3:21 PM, Jan 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-04 18:23:36-05

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. (WXYZ) — As students across metro Detroit return from winter break to a new semester, administrators say they continue to deal with issues of the recent past.

The Wall Street Journal reports around 300,000 teachers and other staffers left their jobs from February 2020 to May 2022. Schools say nearly three years after the pandemic started they're still trying to catch up.

"It was very challenging for me," said Wendy Amoe who has three students at L'Anse Creuse Public Schools in Macomb County. "I have 3 kids. They were all on Zoom and then I was on Zoom for my work. It was so hard."

Amoe says the pandemic amplified the importance of the staff at her students' schools.

"They’re with my kids from 7:00 am to 2:30. They’re helping to raise my kids to be amazing human beings, respectful, educated. So, anything we can do for those teachers I'm all on board for," said Amoe.

Educators say staffing shortages are only one of several challenges they're facing coming out of the pandemic. The say they're also dealing with funding shortfalls and absenteeism.

"It’s been challenging. I think no one would answer that question differently," said L'Anse Creuse superintendent Erik Edoff. 

Edoff says their district has been able to maintain enough teaching staff but have faced challenges to keep support staff like food service and transportation roles. 

"These are really vital areas that must be staffed in order to have functional school. We have to be able to get kids to school safely and get them home safely. We have to feed them adequately while they’re at school," said Edoff. "There are paraprofessional positions which are vital to students who need additional support. Those are all more challenging to fill right now."

Edoff says a lot of the challenges districts are dealing with are lingering results of kids being out of school during the pandemic.

"It’s becoming a real big crisis in almost every school district across the state. It’s not a question of which one. It’s who’s poaching staff from who and who’s going to be left standing," said Bob McCann with K12 Teacher's Alliance. "It is a struggle right now. There’s no question that we need to be getting more young people invested in the teaching profession again."

Educators say the profession needs to be "elevated" with better wages, more flexibility and general respect to draw new teaching talent to the profession.

McCann says another challenge facing schools is the need for more funding dollars and support from the legislature. McCann says the current funding model holds districts back from funding the programs they need to get students back on the right footing following the last three years.

"The biggest issue that our schools still face in Michigan, and somewhat uniquely so, is a funding model that is decades old, out of date and is a one size fits all," said McCann.

Educators say with a change to the funding model, they can continue to support programs started to combat the effects of the pandemic.

"We’ve used a lot of COVID relief dollars to add to our mental health support staff, people working with students on an individual basis, people working with students' behaviors and they need sustained financial support in order to continue," said Edoff.