North Dakota revises loan program amid teacher shortage

At the peak of North Dakota’s oil boom, some schools in the western part of the state not only were employing teachers, but began housing them as well — in duplexes, triplexes or mobile housing units, Sen. David Rust recalls. This school-as-landlord idea has been one of the more dramatic actions taken in recent years to address the shortage of teachers.
More recently, housing costs have subsided in North Dakota’s oil country (“They’re still higher than we would like to see,” Rust says), but the lack of qualified teacher candidates persists there, as well as in many communities across the state.

“When you have people who don’t want to go to rural areas, say any place with under 30,000 people, that means you’re talking about a large majority of our state,” notes Rust, a former school superintendent in Tioga, known as the “Oil Capital of North Dakota.”
But will they consider going with some more financial incentives?
North Dakota lawmakers hope so, and it’s the reason they tweaked an existing loan-forgiveness program earlier this year. Under SB 2037, an individual now can receive as much as $26,000 in assistance if he or she teaches: 1) in a rural area and 2) in a position of “critical need.” (Smaller amounts of assistance are available for people who meet one of these criteria.)
The state is providing $2.1 million for this program. In addition to loan forgiveness, a recent North Dakota task force on teacher recruitment and retention offered other policy ideas — expanding the use of bonuses for individuals who teach in high-need areas, compensating student teachers, and creating a pool of “traveling teachers” that would be hired to work in rural parts of the state for a limited amount of time.
Other ideas, Rust says, include an expansion of teacher scholarships and more flexibility in local labor agreements so that instructors in higher-demand subject areas can get higher pay.
North Dakota is not alone in seeking solutions to a shortage of teachers. It’s a problem in many other Midwestern states as well, where the policy responses have included changes in teacher licensing systems and higher pay. Last year, for example, South Dakota legislators raised the state’s sales tax in order to increase average teacher salaries. That led to an 8.8 percent increase in pay between 2016 and 2017.
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Stateline Midwest: December 20171.86 MB