Michigan leaders say schools need $1 billion to recover from COVID financial toll

School leaders concerned about dropping student enrollment rates, shortage of teachers, staff

Leaders say schools need $1 billion to recover from COVID financial toll

Leaders from across Michigan believe school districts will require $1 billion in state and federal support in order to recover from the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since the onset of the pandemic, schools, teachers and students have been forced to adjust to an ever-changing learning landscape. Michigan schools have had to apply various learning models and implement health and safety protocols in an effort to prevent students and staff from catching or spread COVID.

Now, with no promise of things returning to normal anytime soon even as vaccines become a reality, school leaders from throughout the state are asking state and federal officials for help.

The estimated $1 billion required -- a conservative estimate, officials say -- would go toward basic essentials like personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation equipment, in addition to hiring more teachers and staff to help the many children who have struggled and fallen behind this school year. The K-12 Alliance of Michigan, the group that estimated the funding required, say the funding would be needed by next school year to offset the costs of the pandemic.

“There’s great loss. (There’s) probably five to nine months of learning loss due to the pandemic,” said Dr. Jennifer Lewis with Wayne State University. “Kids will have basically lost a year of academic learning.”

Read: Metro Detroit school leaders urge residents to cancel holiday plans so in-person learning can resume

Beyond the financial cost and learning loss, school leaders say they are more worried about the overall health of their students, both in the coming months and in the long term -- especially their mental health.

“We are gonna need more teachers because our learning gaps are gonna be bigger than ever before,” said Tom Tenbrink, Superintendent of Jenison Public Schools. “We’re going to need social workers in every building. We’re going to need additional school counselors, mental health experts.”

Schools are worried about a shortage of teachers and staff, but they’re also worried about losing students.

Early enrollment audits of Michigan school districts are showing more than 50,000 fewer children are enrolled compared to last year. School leaders are worried that there could be tens of thousands of students who fell all the way through the cracks because of the pandemic.

More: School districts grapple with decline in enrollment amid COVID-19 pandemic

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed a budget for 2021 at the end of September that did increase per-student funding by $65, added a $500 hazard pay stipend for teachers and a $250 stipend for support staff. Leaders say Thursday, however, that that’s only a small fraction of what they’ll need moving forward.

Related: Biden vows to reopen most schools after 1st 100 days on job

About the Authors:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.