There is a dire need for new teachers in Montana, after numbers released recently by the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

KGVO News reached out to Elsie Arntzen, Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction on efforts underway to recruit and retain teachers in the state.

In a press release from Arntzen’s office, the following numbers were reported.

‘In 2020, the number of unfilled classrooms challenged by lack of recruiting teachers had increased from 353 to 599.  In the current Critical Educator Report, vacancies increased by 19% for areas such as math and special education.  In the past five years, unlicensed teachers through emergency authorizations have risen 90%.

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In the 2021- 2022 school year, teacher license renewals and new endorsements resulted in a new low of 5,204, continuing a five-year downward trend.  New teacher licenses are the highest in five years with 1,646 new licenses.  This is attributed to 40% of the applications coming from out-of-state teachers. Our Montana-Made teachers, coming from our 10 Montana teacher preparations programs, have shown a decline of 21.47% since the 2015-2016 school year.’

Arntzen described the steps being taken by her office.

“There’s more than just one solution,” said Arntzen. “There's many. Right now we have some rules and we need public comment on what is a quality teacher in our state and what determines quality, I've got the flexibility that I'm putting forward for recommendations. A lot of it has to do with our Montana grown teachers, but also to open the gate for Montana, to be able to have reciprocity with other states.”

Arntzen described her ‘residency program’.

“We're also doing a project called a residency program, where we pay student teachers for a whole year to be in a school and to be paid a living wage within the cohort of their school with a school mentor, and that's to help retain them in their community,” she said.

She said the Montana Legislature has made funds available to help supplement teachers’ salaries for a limited time to help keep them in Montana.

“We supported the ability to have the legislature give dollars for that first through third year of a teacher,” she said. “In order to do that, we've collected some great data. So it's very preliminary at this time, and it's a stipend of $3,500. That may not be a lot of money but for a first year teacher who may be starting a family and starting their career, it is an incentive, and it's also a thank you.”

She said efforts are also being made to enhance professional development to help support these new teachers.

“We're also looking to make sure that we have an opportunity with our new licensure systems to be able to give great professional development for our brand new teachers as they come out of our teacher prep program, as well as those that are in our existing classroom,” she said. “Basically, it's just a big thank you to all the teachers that are currently teaching in Montana, because we want to make your life and your job easier.”

Public comment is open for the licensing rule recommendations, please send comments to bpe@mt.gov.

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