New “Grow Your Own” investments can address teacher shortages

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Guest Opinion By Rep. Tyson Running Wolf
Sunday, September 5, 2021
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As students and teachers throughout Montana are going back to school, we know that a lot of those schools--especially in rural and reservation communities--are struggling with teacher shortages. Finding and keeping high-quality teachers is a perennial challenge for rural schools in general, and schools in Indian Country in particular. But we also know that if we can encourage hometown kids to pursue a career in education, and help them get the training they need to be teachers, they are more likely to stay in small towns and make a career in their local schools.

That’s why I sponsored a bill during the past session of the state legislature to expand “grow your own” programs in rural and reservation schools. Now that this bill has become law, Montana high schools experiencing teacher shortages will have new resources to establish career pathways into education for their students. They’ll be able to pool those resources with other small schools, and collaborate with nearby tribal, community and two-year colleges. High school students can get a jump start on earning college credit towards a teaching degree, and as they move into college they can get scholarships of up to $10,000 if they return home to work in schools with teacher shortages.

A lot of times, young people in rural or reservation towns who want to teach can’t make it all the way to the four-year colleges where they can get the degrees they need to become certified teachers. Financial barriers or family needs keep them at home, far from the bigger cities. That’s why my bill also provides resources for four-year schools to work with the two-year and tribal colleges that are already in rural and reservation communities, to develop ways for future teachers to get the training they need closer to home.

All students, including those in the most remote parts of our state, deserve to get a good education. Keeping schools in rural Montana and Indian Country strong requires tackling the educator shortage, and giving those schools the tools they need to find and keep high-quality teachers. I’m proud that we’re taking this big step forward in helping schools grow their own teachers, and I’m committed to working with my colleagues in future legislative sessions to make further progress on strengthening our small schools.

Tyson Running Wolf is a Democratic legislator from Browning and represents House District 16.

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