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North Dakota legislative bill seeks to combat statewide teacher shortages

The bill would provide $3 million for a North Dakota Department of Public Instruction program that provides paraprofessionals with funding to get teaching degrees.

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GRAND FORKS — A bill that would provide $3 million for a North Dakota Department of Public Instruction program to combat teacher workforce shortages in the state will advance to the North Dakota Legislature in its regular legislative session in 2023.

The North Dakota Legislature Interim Higher Education Committee advanced the bill that would provide funding to the Teacher Shortage Grants at its meeting at UND's Memorial Union on Thursday, Sept 8. The Teacher Shortage Grants is a NDDPI program that provides funding to paraprofessionals to return to school online for teaching degrees. The committee voted to advance the bill after hearing updates from the NDDPI and North Dakota University System on teacher shortages in the state and efforts to remedy the shortages.

Across North Dakota K-12 schools, there are 418 open teaching positions, said Josef Kolosky, director of school approval and opportunity at NDDPI. This total includes general and special education positions. The department has identified special education teachers, high school career and technical education teachers, library media specialists, counselors and high school science teachers as critical need areas for the state.

In previous years, said Kolosky, districts would hire a long-term substitute teacher to fill open teaching positions while continuing to search for a permanent employee. But now, districts are struggling to find substitute teachers, so have turned to other options.

“So there’s more combining of courses,” said Kolosky.

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Especially in rural districts, he explained, grade levels, like first and second grade, or third and fourth grade, will be combined to accommodate teacher shortages. Across the state, districts have also started hiring teachers from other counties to fill open positions.

The Teacher Shortage Grants are one NDDPI effort to help combat teacher shortages by providing a pathway for paraprofessionals to pursue teaching degrees. The program has been active since fall 2019 and uses Individuals with Disabilities Act and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funds, said Laurie Matzke, assistant superintendent at the NDDPI.

“There are students out there who are interested in going into the teaching profession, however, it is somewhat daunting to think about going to school for four years, racking up student debt and then looking at paying that off on a teacher’s salary,” said Matzke. “So, we can provide some support to them through these scholarship programs.”

The first round of the program, which the NDDPI conducted in partnership with Minot State University, targeted special education. A second round, in partnership with the University of Mary targeted general education and rural districts.

A third round of the program will target dual licensure, for example, licensing in special education and general education, or English learner general education and special education. Matzke said the NDDPI will announce which university will be awarded a grant to establish the third round of the program early next week.

While the program used ESSER funding now, that funding runs out in September 2024. The bill advanced by the Higher Education Committee would provide the NDDPI with up to $3 million for the program to continue after that funding runs out, with up to $20,000 each for universities in the university system to start hosting the program. After paying startup costs, the remainder of that $3 million would go toward grants for paraprofessionals who want to take part in the program.

In other news, the Higher Education Committee:

  • Heard presentations from the NDUS and Workforce Development Council about workforce needs in information technology fields.
  • Heard presentations about other ways to encourage students to attend schools in North Dakota. These strategies include financial aid targeted to students who have ceased enrollment without a degree to incentivize returning to school and direct admission programs, where students with a high enough high school GPA will receive notification of which North Dakota Universities would admit them.
Related Topics: HIGHER EDUCATIONEDUCATION
Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or iharbo@gfherald.com. Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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