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Colorado Bill Offers Staffing Help to Rural Districts

Rural school districts in Colorado would receive help finding and keeping teachers if legislation passed by state lawmakers last week is signed by the governor, according to a story by The Colorado Independent.

The bill, which was passed on the last day of the state's legislative session, would require the creation of a rural education coordinator position at a college or university who would connect aspiring teachers with rural school districts. The law would also set up a teacher cadet academy which would help rural high school students explore the teaching field. Student teachers who agree to teach in a rural school for at least two years would receive stipends and current rural teachers who want to earn a National Board Certification could receive grants under the legislation. 

Seventy percent of districts in Colorado and small and rural, and those districts serve a high percentage of students who are English-language learners. As of 2015, enrollment in Colorado's teacher preparation programs was down 23 percent compared to 2010, with pronounced shortages in math, science, and special education. Rural schools in the state have struggled to attract and retain teachers for years, with some relying on international candidates to fill positions.

Many states have attempted to "grow their own" teachers or school leaders to mitigate shortages, especially in rural districts. That may mean training local residents to teach specific subjects that they have expertise in, or providing scholarships to teachers who agree to return to their hometowns to teach. Last year, several states proposed teacher cadet programs in federal "educator equity plans" that were submitted to the U.Ss Department of Education and attempt to give poor and minority students better teachers.

As I reported last week, several states across the country are also considering or passing legislation aimed at getting teachers to work in and stay in rural schools. Those states, North Carolina, Wisconsin, and South Carolina are all considering or enacting loan forgiveness programs that would help rural teachers pay down debt in exchange for teaching in rural districts. 

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