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University of Hawaii Program to Target Rural Special Education Teachers

A new program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa will provide virtual training to rural special education teachers across the state in an attempt to improve teaching, especially for teachers who work with students with severe behavioral and learning disabilities.

The program will be funded by a $952,000 federal grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education & Rehabilitative Services, and will support two cohorts of 15 teachers from the school's master of education program. Teachers will participate in virtual classes and must commit to teaching special education in rural, remote areas of Hawaii.

Nearly 16 percent of schools in Hawaii are rural, and like many rural schools across the nation, the state has struggled to fill teaching positions in these schools. In recent years, special education teachers have been offered up to $6,000 in relocation bonuses to work in "hard-to-staff" schools, according to the Associated Press.

Similar programs have launched at other universities in an effort to address rural special education teacher shortages. The University of Nebraska's Kearny campus launched a program last year that will ease the certification process for special education teachers. Aspiring special education teachers will be able to earn a comprehensive certification in kindergarten through 12th grade through the program, rather than just kindergarten through 6th grade, or 7th through 12th grade.  A 2012 survey of rural schools found that more than half of rural administrators had "moderate to extreme" challenges in hiring special education teachers. More than 40 percent of the rural special education teachers who were surveyed plan to leave their schools within five years.

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