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South Dakota Lawmakers Focus on Rural Teacher Shortages

Lawmakers in South Dakota plan to propose legislation that would combat rural teacher shortages in the state, according to recent stories by The Daily Republic and South Dakota Public Broadcasting. 

State Rep. Tom Holmes, R-Sioux Falls, is crafting legislation that would provide tuition assistance to paraprofessionals in rural areas who want to become teachers, according to The Daily Republic. Paraprofessionals would have to commit to staying in a rural community and teaching for five years to receive tuition assistance.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Billie Sutton, D-Burke, plans to propose legislation that would reimburse new teachers who decide to teach in a rural school, according to SDPB.

"There are over 1,000 teachers eligible to retire right now," Sutton told SDPB. "There are only 726 in state students who will enter the teaching profession in 2015. But how many of those will stay in South Dakota? There's no guarantee that even half will stay in South Dakota."

Nearly 79 percent of South Dakota's school districts are small and rural, and those teachers on average make one of the lowest salaries in the country, according to the Rural School and Community Trust. According to a 2014 article by the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, low pay has contributed to the state's shortage of teachers, with at least 20 percent of the state's school districts reporting unfilled teaching jobs on the first day of the 2014-15 school year. 

Nationwide, rural states have tried several tactics to increase the number of teachers in rural areas. In South Carolina, for example, GOP Gov. Nikki Haley recently announced a proposal to recruit high-quality teachers to rural schools. That program would reimburse tuition and help teachers pay off loans if they commit to teaching in a rural district.

Some universities have tried to help by offering online and distance learning courses so rural residents can take education courses without leaving their communities. The University of South Dakota, like many teacher preparation programs across the country, offers a rural-teaching track to encourage students to teach in rural communities. 

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