Fixing the rural teacher shortage

To the editor,

Last week was a good one for schools and teachers. In 2017, the Governor signed my bill, HB17-1003, to find solutions for Colorado’s educator shortage. We’re pushing forward to address them.

Colorado is about 3,000 educators short, including teachers, aides and special services instructors. The Department of Higher Education and Department of Education toured the state last year to determine why educators are leaving the profession early, or not entering it at all.

In December, they presented the Education Committees with their results. Recently, the House Education Committee discussed bills generated by the listening tour.

The Legislature set aside $2 million for teacher education programs and $8 million for public schools in the budget this year to remedy many of the educator-shortage issues. These bills are working their way through the Legislature.

• HB18-1367, will create a professional development program for school principal leadership. The listening tour found many teachers leave the profession because of weak leadership; this bill will use strong mentor principals to help those who need assistance. The goal is to train principals to use distributive and collaborative leader skills and improve educator retention, school climate and culture and student outcomes.

• HB18-1309 implements a “grow-your-own” teacher program. Under the bill, education majors at Colorado colleges and universities are paired with school districts or charter schools. With assistance from state grants provided by the bill, the district or school would pay tuition for a student’s last 36 credits. In exchange, the student would commit to work in the same school for three years.

• Another bill, HB18-1412, provides funding for a Retaining Teachers Grant Program to help schools implement initiatives to improve teacher retention, as teacher attrition in Colorado is higher than the national average. Schools will be offered a menu of strategies and can choose the ones that best fit their needs. The menu includes job-sharing, on-site child care, teacher induction programs, incentives for highly effective teachers, and others.

• HB18-1189 expands the number of teachers entering a residency expansion program. This helps encourage professionals who want to enter the teaching profession to complete the rigorous alternative teacher licensure program.

• HB18-1002 is a rural grow-your-own fellowship program that helps a student pay for the costs of student teaching, with the promise that the district and teacher will work together to ensure employment.

• SB18-229 streamlines the background check process for students in a teacher-education program. Some students have paid for the check multiple times as they apply to several districts. This ensures they pay once.

• Another one of my bills, SB18-085, will expand an existing program providing stipends to teachers who are pursuing additional certification and agree to teach in rural areas. This will help teachers complete an alternative licensure program, finish additional course work to be certified as a concurrent enrollment teacher or complete classes leading to certification as a special services provider. Teachers who receive this funding must teach in a rural area for three years. This bill may die in the Senate, as they don’t believe funding for special services – psychologists and special needs – is needed in the rural areas.

I am so proud to be a legislative leader for education. Listening to educators and addressing their needs has produced some forward-thinking bills that will help our students become well-educated and productive members of society.

– Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango