Montana lawmakers are considering multiple pieces of legislation that would help rural districts attract and retain teachers, according to an Associated Press report. Under one House-approved proposal, rural schools that have fewer than 120 students would be eligible to hire retired educators — who have at least 27 years under their belts — who would still get to collect their full retirement pay for up to three years.
Another bill, which has passed in the state Senate, would let rural schools with "critical teacher shortages" offer student loan repayment programs to new teachers. Teachers would be able to get up to $3,000 after their first year on the job, $4,000 after their second and $5,000 after their third, the AP notes.
Other education-related proposals in the state legislature deal with school safety and college and career readiness. One bill, which was approved in the House, would allow rural districts to hire school marshals and create training standards, while another would allow schools to chip in for students' dual enrollment courses, college exam fees or costs surrounding work-based learning.
As the teacher shortage continues to persist — especially in rural or underserved areas — states aren't the only parties working to provide solutions. In addition to states proposing policies to pay teachers more, subsidize their housing or lower their certification requirements, universities are trying to reverse the rural teacher shortage by offering accessible programs to entice future teachers to the education field.
For example, the University of Colorado Boulder is teaming up with school districts in the state through a "grow your own" teacher program designed to recruit more future educators to rural districts. Admission to the university's education program is guaranteed through two high school concurrent enrollment programs: Teacher Cadet and Pathways2Teaching. The programs provide college readiness classes for 11th- and 12th-graders who are also aspiring teachers and work to strengthen this pipeline.
In addition, Texas Tech University's TechTeach Across Rural Texas allows future teachers to intern with their home rural districts while simultaneously earning their bachelor’s degrees. This accelerated program takes one year to complete if the student already has an associate’s degree, and it includes a district-funded site coordinator, who also serves as an instructional coach. The internships run three days per week in the classroom under supervision of a teacher and the site coordinator, giving students both real-world experience and mentorship.
At a K-12 level, districts can play their part in mitigating these shortages. Dell City Independent School District in Austin, Texas, is turning unused school buildings into affordable housing for teachers in hopes of slowing the district’s attrition rate. It is also applying to become a District of Innovation, which gives it more flexibility to hire uncertified teachers who hail from the town and who might have more of a pull to stay.
Offering other incentives, including retention bonuses or onsite child care, can also go a long way in giving teachers more reasons to stay. And not all potential solutions have to be high-cost: Simply giving teachers more voice in school processes and improving school climate can drastically impact teachers' desirability to stay in a district or leave for another.