Underpaid Teachers in Michigan



Alyssa Schmidt & Sara Spillman

1. Media Artifact

Link to media artifact(s) giving background on the issue. Please list the title of the artifact(s) and then make the title(s) a link to the page in the MSC site where the artifact has been posted. You may include media artifacts made by other MSC members, if relevant, even if they are not authors of this proposal.

Here is the link to our media artifact on underpaid teachers in Michigan.

2. Persona and POV statement


Persona name: Payton

Age: 21

School/occupation: University of Michigan

Location: Ann Arbor


Quote: "Why should I have to choose between wanting to educate the future of our country and making enough money to support a family?"



  • Payton is a Junior in college. She grew up living in Ann Arbor with a single mother who had to work two different jobs to support her.

  • Payton grew up with teachers she loved and admired and wanted to be an educator herself to give students the best possible learning environment and education they could possibly get.

  • In college, Payton began to learn more and more about becoming a teacher and the education system herself. She started to realize that being a teacher means you do not really get paid so well because of flaws in the education system.


  • To balance being a teacher and supporting her family

  • To make the education system understand the importance of paying teachers fairly

  • To give her students the best possible education she can

POV Statement:

  • User: Payton, a determined and eager college student who wants to be a teacher...

  • Need: needs a way to make enough money teaching in Michigan to support her family...

  • Insight: because she grew up with a single mom who could not provide her with the funds and financial support that a family requires.


3. Potential Solutions:

Describe three reasonable, feasible potential solutions or approaches that would help address this problem.

SOLUTION 1: Raising taxes to benefit school systems/educators

A simple, yet effective way to increase teacher salaries would be to increase tax money that goes to the schools solely for the purpose of adding to salaries or educators. While I am aware that at first look, many citizens may not be happy with higher taxes, there is good reason to believe in people wanting to help out. In light of the recent pandemic that has been going on in the world, there have been constant social media posts and blogs from mothers and fathers about having to homeschool their children. There is a common theme within all of the posts: parents respect teachers an infinite amount more than they did before the coronavirus and believe they do not get the credit (or money) they deserve. 

Other states are considering this solution of putting taxes towards the salaries of educators. For example, in November of 2020, California voters will be considering a ballot initiative. This measure would increase taxes on business and commercial properties. The benefit of this proposition is that it's decided by the majority. During the campaign, teachers would be able to make the case for the need to increase their wages. A potential negative to this idea is that it increases costs for businesses and if they have higher costs those will be passed along to the consumer. (EdSource) Similarly, in Colorado, voters will also consider changes to the tax code. The proposal in Colorado would be a change in the income tax structure that would require people of high income (more than $250,000 a year) to pay a higher state income tax. Some of the increased revenue would be put towards education systems. (DenverPost) As with the California ballot proposition, this allows a majority of the public to decide. Opponents of this might argue that if high income voters are taxed at a higher rate, they may just decide to leave the state. Regardless what tax increase is discussed, there is likely to be someone that is opposed to it. Generally, there's various creative ways that states are finding in order to increase revenue for education systems, specifically to increase teacher pay.  


SOLUTION 2: Providing teachers with low-cost home loans or rent subsidies, or helping to eliminate student debt

Since housing accounts for about 37% of the average American's budget (Business Insider), one way to help teachers would be to provide them with low-cost home loans or rent subsidies. This would make it possible for teachers to live more affordably and support their families in the communities where they teach.These benefits would also help to recruit more people into the teaching profession. 

While most states are currently lacking this type of program, there are examples of some that do. The Mississippi Employer-Assisted Housing Teacher Program grants up to $6,000 in forgivable loans towards the housing of eligible teachers in areas where there is a shortage of teachers. (Mississippi Department of Education) Similarly, in California, there is the School Teacher and Employee Assistance Program. This provides a loan for up to 4% of the appraised value of the property or the sales price (whichever is less.) (California Housing Finance Agency) Both of these programs make it possible for educators to become home-owners.

Some states are also helping to cover the costs of rent for teachers. In Arkansas, from 2008-2013, The Arkansas Teacher Housing Development Foundation allocated rental assistance and forgivable loans of maximum $10,000. (Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration

Another idea we are proposing, similar to what’s been done in Arizona, a system to tackle the teacher shortage crisis and student debts teachers may have. This would consist of a “Teachers Academy” program. The graduates of this program would have their tuition and fees waived in exchange to teach at public schools in Michigan. This would ensure not only high quality and prepared teachers, but it would eliminate educational debt that currently exists for many individuals. The program would also prepare future teachers to fulfill the needs of Michigan schools and areas that have teacher shortages, specifically institutions in low-income or struggling areas. This will be funded by the state through its general fund. This saves money because for each academic year that the student completes, they have to agree to teach for one year at an entry level rate. This also eliminates the costs and time of recruiting teachers and higher pay that would have to be offered initially.

A lot of the reason to not become a teacher is because in today's day-and-age, prices are high and families are big. It is hard to give your family want they want or deserve with such a low salary. Making students see that there are other benefits that non-teachers don't have for their families can increase the likelihood to become a teacher. 

SOLUTION 3: Teacher walkouts and protests, Lobbying

As we have seen in other states, teacher walkouts or protests are an effective way to get the legislature to increase the salaries of teachers. In Late February/Early March of 2018, West Virginia educators held a statewide walkout demanding higher pay. This continued on for 2 weeks until Gov. James C. Justice signed a bill to give teachers and other state employees a 5% pay raise. (New York Times) Teachers across the state joined together for one goal, and their voices were eventually heard. Similarly, in October 2019, teachers located in Chicago (the third largest school district in the US) spent 11 days on strike. By the end, the city agreed to a 16% salary increase over the next 5 years as well as class-size reductions. (The New York Times) It is clear that striking is a tactic that causes the concerns of teachers to be more-widely recognized and can result in success. 

However, due to the current pandemic that has caused school systems to go online, teacher walkouts might not be very effective or possible at all. This is because everyone is hyper-focused on the virus and it is not a suitable time for people to be focusing on teachers when they are worried about their health and safety. This has led me to consider other options such as lobbying and social media campaigns. When parents are in their homes with their children who are learning remotely, they are now able to see how vital teachers are to society. 




Reference to a current Michigan bill or law that relates in some way to your proposal:

House Bill 5258 (2019)

  • This house bill states that there is a certain salary cap for school administrators and employees.

    • Specifically, the bill states that no school administrator can earn more than 4 times the starting salary or 3 times the average salary of a teacher.   

    • One could argue that this bill is ineffective because it does not necessarily put any more money into the hands of teachers. The bill creates a ratio for administrators and teachers but does not increase teacher salaries.  

Why this proposal will make a difference in the lives of students of all ages across Michigan, or a significant subgroup (by age, background, economic status, and/or region, etc.) of students in Michigan:

  • This proposal will make a difference in the lives of every single person living in Michigan.

    • Most directly, of course, it will make a difference in the lives of teachers by increasing their pay and making their lives better and more comfortable financially.

    • More indirectly, increasing teacher pay will make resources more available to teach. With these better and more available resources, the education system as a whole will increase in effectiveness. In other words, more resources 

How and where did you learn about the issues underlying your proposal?

  • First semester, as well as the short time in second semester, I (Alyssa) have volunteered at both a low-income preschool and an after school tutoring program for underprivileged kids. I have seen first hand the impact of low salaries and school funding on both teachers and students in Michigan.

How has your service activity influenced your thinking about this proposal?

  • As stated previously, I have seen first hand how low-income schools impact the education systems. My service activity gave an answer to how students can get the help they need without having to pay high prices in teachers or resources.

Link to your media artifact(s) giving background on the issue:



Talk directly with at least 3 real live people who have special knowledge about this topic or the impact your proposal would have, and summarize their comments. These may include people appearing in your media artifact (video, podcast, etc.).

CONSULTATION 1: Jamie Steuerman - teacher in New York

  • Jamie is a reading teacher in the state of New York, which is ranked higher in funds and education than the state of Michigan. I spoke to her about her perspective on the importance and necessity of funds and good salaries on not only her life but her students' lives as well.

    • "Unfortunately, much of our lives revolve around money. Of course there will always be people who just love what they do regardless of the money they make, but in today's day-and-age, with the economy we live in and the social expectations put on people, that is a rarity. People base how well they are going to do their job not on who it affects, but the reward they will receive."

      • Basically, what Jamie is saying is that the bigger the reward for the amount of work a person does, the better job they will do.

      • This is important to the cause because it shows the effect on children's education based purely on teachers' salaries. With the little pay for teachers, children are not getting the best possible education that they should.

  • ​Jamie's school that she is in now is the second school she has worked in with the first being an underprivileged school as a reading teacher. We spoke to her about the differences she saw in the schools solely based on the funds they have.

    • "...it is a very obvious difference. For starters, the first school I taught in had such limited resources to give the students. They had less books, less pencils, less educational toys... Most schools do not budget in the in-classroom resources that teachers can use. This means that many schools require their teachers to buy their own supplies."

      • With such a low salary, teachers in Michigan, or in any underpaying school district, have a hard time getting supplies they need to help their students learn easier and more effectively.

CONSULTATION 2: A teacher that participated in a school walk out in Chicago as well as someone at the Michigan Education Association.

  • After doing research on the Chicago teacher walk out on October 17, 2019, I wanted to get in touch with a teacher who participated to ask about why they did it and the effects it had. Similarly, I tried to reach out to a live person as a member of the Michigan Education Association to see how they can help me better my proposal. Unfortunately, with all the craziness going on in the world, I was unable to speak with anyone from these two places.

CONSULTATION 3: A teacher at an underprivileged and underpaid preschool in Ann Arbor

  • I spoke with the head of the volunteer program at Foundations Preschool in Ann Arbor, Mary Bruggenwirth about this issue months ago, as it was part of a previous class I was enrolled in last semester. Although I do not have any direct quotes from her, I have information regarding her perspective of the issue at hand.

    • It was very hard on both the teachers and students in this preschool because of the little funds and low salaries. She had told me that aside from all of the obvious effects of low salaries [which are stated in my research with Jamie Steuerman], there are many effects that are not as obvious. One major effect is how often teachers were absent. These low income teachers at this school do not have the best health care benefits and resources as high paid teachers or other workers normally receive. Because of this, teachers may get sick more often and therefore not come into school. With children, especially with young kids in preschool, stability is extremely crucial to their education. Absent teachers have a large negative impact on the learning of these students.

CONSULTATION 4: Parents in Alyssa’s hometown

  • Although many people hate taxes, and if you previously asked homeowners and taxpayers in your hometown they would not want to increase taxes to help teachers make more money, times have changed and people's world view has changed. I spoke with many parents (mostly mothers of young children) that are now trying to "homeschool" their children during this worldwide Covid-19 pandemic. 

    • One mother who has 2 sons (one 5th grader and one 2nd grader) said: "I have a completely new found respect for all teachers and what they do. Everything is different from when I was in school. Everything is harder. I can barely do my kids' homework. I don't know how teachers can simultaneously babysit 15+ children at a time while also teaching them every subject." 

      • Most mothers had similar perspectives. I asked 50 mothers who are home with children ages 1-17 and 93% of them said because of this pandemic, they would all accept a tax increase that would go towards higher teacher salaries.

Reaction or advice from a Topic Coordinator:

You must solicit a critique from a topic coordinator, and explain the impact that advice has had on the final draft of this proposal.


Research process:

Describe your research process — indicate who you talked to (including but not limited to consultants), what you read, what your thinking was, how it changed over time, and how your consultants changed your thinking. This description of your research process definitely could include “dead ends,” or ideas you had that didn’t ultimately bear fruit.  In short, we want to know what you did and how it led to your legislation, and we also want you to give us a window into your thought process.

(Alyssa) A lot of my research process came from teachers I had been in contact with from my previous volunteer work both in low paid and higher paid schools. At first, I was pretty content on just allocating money from other parts of the school budget and teacher benefits. After doing research and talking to teachers and other working people as well, I soon realized it was not this easy and not very attractive to many people. Finally, I researched how other states were able to help this issue and found that it is acceptable and doable to give other benefits as well as show legislators how important teachers are to show that money needs to come from somewhere.

(Sara) A lot of my research came from my previous volunteer work experience as well, but most of it came from perusing articles and databases. Throughout high school, I volunteered at an elementary school in a low-income area. While it was such a rewarding experience to help those in need and encourage education, the biggest take-away was how grateful they were to have volunteers. It was clear that the class sizes were far too large for one teacher to handle, and that many of the students weren't getting the attention and help they needed to excel at their full potential academically. Going into the research process with this past experience in mind, I knew that there was a lack of teachers and I recognized that as an issue but I did not fully grasp why teaching was on the decline as a career path if it is such a vital part of our community. I went on to find many examples of teachers being underpaid and underappreciated. After finding how big of an issue this actually is, I researched how other states were handling this and what was being done that was successful or unsuccessful. I then found data to project costs and societal impacts of our solutions. I struggled with the calculation of costs because of the lack of information available online regarding the state of Michigan household incomes and what percent of the population makes more than $250,000 a year. 

Author contributions:

Please delineate--in detail--who made what contributions to the process and to the finished proposal? Who took on which responsibilities in researching ideas, drafting language, etc.?

  • Alyssa Schmidt contributions:

    • media artifact

    • persona and POV statement

    • potential solutions

    • reaching out to organizations

    • background and research process

  • Sara Spillman contributions:

    • data/statistics 

    • potential solutions

    • clauses

    • additional research/COVID-19 impact

    • background and research process



Preambulatory clauses

These set up the PROBLEM, but not the solution.

WHEREAS.... On average, teachers in the state of Michigan make 26.1% less than the average salary of the state as a whole

WHEREAS.... Teacher salaries in the state of Michigan are stagnant, remaining at or about $62,000 a year over the past 5 years

WHEREAS.... Enrollment at Michigan's teacher preparation programs dropped 70 percent in eight years. There were 16,000 fewer college students majoring in K-12 education degree programs in 2016-17 school year than there were 2008-09 (according to data from U.S. Department of Education)

WHEREAS... When you consider inflation, the average Michigan teacher made $700 less in 2019 then he or she did in 2011

WHEREAS... An estimated 1 in 5 new Michigan teachers quit the profession within 5 years


Operative clauses

These describe in detail, the solution you are proposing (not the problem itself; those should go in the "Whereas" clauses above).


1. We propose a higher income tax (1%) to be placed on higher-earning (salary of minimum $250,000 a year) citizens to help raise teacher salaries.

2. The state would borrow a sum of money from banks to create a fund for teachers.  This would be used to provide housing loans or rent subsidies to teachers who need them.The state legislature would appoint a committee composed of educators and business professionals to decide who would receive these benefits.  Beneficiaries would pay interest on their loans.   If a teacher were to default, the fund would take possession of the house. Companies might be willing to donate money for rent subsidies or home loans to improve the quality of education and help attract and retain employees. These benefits would strengthen the appeal of becoming a teacher and make it a more idealized job for college students figuring out what they want to do.

The state would fund a program for teacher candidates that trains/prepares them to be teachers free of tuition and other costs. In return, graduates of the program would have to agree to work at public schools. 

3. Organize a public education campaign to let people know exactly what teachers do and how important their work is. We propose that influential individuals and business leaders spend time in Michigan classrooms to observe conditions there and to see what teachers do and how important they are. This would encourage companies to contribute to programs to aid teachers. 


What are three reasonable arguments against this proposal?

1. How will people react to higher taxes? How will this affect other jobs and peoples' livelihoods?

2. Where would the money be allocated from for loans and subsidies? Why should teachers get these privileges over other underpaid professions? How can you still be sure, even with more benefits, college students who are not thinking about their future will want to become teachers?

3. How can we be certain that these campaigns will be effective or have an impact in changing public opinion? How can we be certain that these campaigns will benefit all teachers and not just some? 

Costs and funding:

Our proposal would be costly as we know this is a large issue to tackle. Currently, in the state of Michigan, every taxpayer pays a state-income tax of 4.25%. People of all incomes pay this percentage. Our proposal is shifting some of the burden to the wealthier who are able to afford it. This would mean everyone who earns more than $250,000 per year would lose another 1% of their income to taxes to benefit teachers. While we were unable to find how many people earn more than $250,000 a year in the state of Michigan, we did find, based on statistics of the U.S. as a whole, roughly 8.5% of people earn more than $200,000 a year. Based on that statistic, it seems likely that the tax changes we are proposing would impact less than 8% of the Michigan population. 

As far as the housing portion of the proposal goes, we assume there would be some costs relating to the administration of the loans. There is a cost associated with organizing who is eligible, how much of a loan they should receive and other logistics. Beyond that, like any loan, the borrower would be paying interest and be required to pay back the loan in appropriate time. 

The campaigns we have proposed would be relatively low-cost as it would consist of volunteered time from members of the community who are passionate about education. 









These can include websites or other information you have found about the issue.


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