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Legislature advancing bills to help train, recruit and retain teachers in rural Montana

Posted: 6:53 PM, Feb 26, 2019
Updated: 2019-02-26 20:53:26-05

HELENA – A trio of bills to help rural schools in Montana find and keep people for hard-to-fill teaching positions is moving through the Legislature – including two measures endorsed by the House Tuesday.

The Montana House voted 70-30 on Tuesday for a bill creating and funding a “grow your own” grant program, helping Indian reservation and other rural school districts identify and train high school students and others in the community to become certified teachers.

The idea behind House Bill 420 has worked to develop teachers on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation and could work for other rural schools across the state, said its sponsor, Rep. Tyson Runningwolf, D-Browning.

“Maybe this will not be the cookie-cutter model to help every rural community, but it’s one that worked for us, and I really want to promote it,” he said.

The House also voted 55-45 for House Bill 459, which would set up a $500,000-a-year program financed by oil-and-gas taxes, to help recruit and retain teachers in rural schools. The Office of Public Instruction would develop rules on how to distribute the money, with the help of two committees composed of school officials and employees.

“Our rural schools absolutely need this assistance to be able to attract the best-qualified, best-suited teachers and certified staff for their students,” said the sponsor, Rep. Becky Beard, R-Elliston.

Last week, the House passed House Bill 211, which would expand into more rural areas a state program that helps repay student loans for quality teachers, and earmark an additional $1 million for the program over the next two years.

All three of the bills are headed for the state Senate, which will consider them in the second half of the Legislature.

HB420 directs the commissioner of higher education to create and administer the “grow your own” grant program and provides $500,000 for it over the next two years.

High school students from local communities would be encouraged to enter teaching, through dual enrollment credits, work-based learning opportunities and scholarships.

The grants also would help other people in the community, who have skills in areas that have a teacher shortage, to become certified as teachers.

“They already have a commitment to the community,” Rep. Wendy McKamey, R-Great Falls, of the latter group. “They are the mothers, the grandmothers, various individuals who have an established realm in the community.”

“This is one way that we can keep people in the community and have them also be able to teach. It’s a win for the community and it’s a win for the schools all the way around.”

 — Story by Mike Dennison – MTN News