LANSING, Mich. (AP) – Stacey Ancona has taught science at inner city and suburban high schools in Michigan, but her next teaching job will be in South Carolina.
The 24-year-old Lansing resident is one of hundreds of new teachers leaving for positions in other states, a reflection of Michigan’s wealth of teaching colleges, shrinking number of students and budget woes that have forced schools to cut staffs.
Since peaking at 117,973 in the 2004-05 academic year, the number of public school teachers in Michigan has shrunk by nearly 9 percent, a loss of about 10,000 jobs, according to the Center for Educational Performance and Information. That number tracks the 8 percent drop in public school students, to 1.56 million, that Michigan has seen over the past five years.
But the drop in teachers also is partly attributable to shrinking state support for public education. School districts this fall must absorb a cut of at least $370 per student that’s part of an overall 2.2 percent cut in state funding, plus rising costs for teacher pensions, technology and books. Hundreds of teachers have been handed pink slips as districts pore over the numbers and decide how many they can hire back this fall.
Ancona says the uncertainty over whether she can find a job and keep it is one reason she’s leaving. A friend got laid off at Utica schools this spring after teaching for a year and had to move halfway across the state to land a new position in Battle Creek.
During the year she taught biology and chemistry as a long-term substitute at Holt High School, her alma mater, Ancona wasn’t offered health insurance or other benefits. She finished that job in June and went looking for more stability. She’s moving this weekend to Charleston, S.C., where she’ll start teaching at West Ashley High School.
“Even if we get a job in Michigan … what happens next year?” asked Ancona, who student taught for a year at Lansing’s Eastern High School after graduating from Michigan State University. “It’s sad because as Michigan State’s pushing out really good science teachers, other states are getting the benefit.”
Of the 30 science teachers who graduated with her, five went to Louisville, Ky., three to Maryland and three or four to the Denver area, she said. The assistant principal at her new school is a Western Michigan University graduate.
The Michigan Education Association told Michigan State University’s Capital News Service about 5,000 of the 7,500 annual graduates of college education program in Michigan leave the state, although finding jobs elsewhere is becoming more difficult as other states cut education funding because of shrinking revenues.
Michigan Department of Education spokesman Martin Ackley said Friday that part of the reason so many teachers leave is because they train to teach grades or subjects where demand is low, such as elementary education – and because Michigan universities graduate so many teachers. Michigan has granted 7,980 provisional teaching certificates to new teachers this year, up 35 percent from the year before and the most since 2007.
“It is apparent that Michigan’s teacher prep programs are developing an abundance of new teachers, and more than there are openings for in our K-12 schools,” Ackley said. “While we recognize the autonomy of our colleges and universities, we encourage them to focus less on volume and more on trying to meet the needs of our schools, especially in the shortage areas like math and science teachers.”
Yet even science teachers such as Ancona are finding better opportunities elsewhere. With the state’s unemployment rate stuck in double digits and school districts struggling financially, even experienced teachers are finding themselves out of work.
“If you want to find a teaching job, you’re going to have to move out of the Midwest,” said Phil Gardner, director of MSU’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute. “There’s not enough money to go around. … It’s just very difficult to get a teaching job here.”
Gardner’s daughter has taught for three years in a Chicago-area school district and gotten pink-slipped every spring. In the past, she got called back. This year, she’s out of a job and considering leaving the profession, Gardner said.
The economic reality of scarcer teaching jobs is sinking in as graduates realize some school districts are getting a thousand applications for every elementary teaching job opening, he said.
“What has happened over the past five to six years is, the supply side of new teachers has begun to shrink” as the number of students in teaching programs decline, Gardner added.
Michigan has passed laws this year that could give new teachers a better chance of staying employed when layoffs occur. Teacher performance rather than seniority now must be the primary factor in deciding who stays and who goes, and personnel issues related to layoffs no longer are subject to collective bargaining.
Still, with the number of students continuing to shrink at Michigan schools, the exodus of new teachers to other states likely will continue. Michigan was the only state to lose population over the past decade, according to the 2010 census.
Despite the bleak situation, Ancona says she hopes her move out of state isn’t permanent.
“Maybe it’s 10 years, maybe it’s longer,” she said. “But it’s always been a plan to come back.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)