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Teacher shortage in ND

It’s a growing issue in North Dakota.

School districts across the state have had trouble recruiting teachers to fill open spots. As Prairie Public’s Dave Thompson reports, the shortage is statewide.

As the school year approached, the public schools in Ray were scrambling to find teachers.

“We had six positions open this year,” said Arley Larson, the Ray school principal. But he’s not alone.

“A couple of weeks before school started, we were still about 200 teachers short, in both elementary and high school throughout North Dakota," said Aimee Copas, the executive director of the North Dakota Council of Educational Leaders. Her organization represents school administrators and principals.  “All the way up until the last days before school started, there were still positions open in some of our hub cities, such as Bismarck, Fargo, West Fargo, Minot – so certainly not just in the northwest.”

Copas says the openings ran the gamut.

“Even in areas we’ve never seen teacher openings before, such as in elementary or in physical education or in the social sciences.”

Larson says he ended up filling the jobs.

“We hired all six, filled all positions – but they’re all from out of state.”

Janet Welk is the executive director of the state Education Standards and Practices Board.     

“In fact, for the last two years I have issued more licenses to people coming into North Dakota than I have graduates of North Dakota institutions,” saud Welk. “With our own graduates, graduating from our educator preparation programs in North Dakota, those numbers have gone down. We aren’t seeing as many people go into education as we used to.”

Before Aimee Copas joined the Council of Educational Leaders, she worked for the North Dakota University System.

“We had a difficult time recruiting the best of the best into the profession of education,” said Copas. “If you’re a 4.0 student that could potentially become an engineer, and make six figures a year, are you going to be an engineer, or are you going to be a $30,000 science teacher?”

Copas says there are students who enter the teaching filed – because they have the passion to teach. But she says the economic realities are sobering.

“The reality is – our students in North Dakota that go to become teachers end up leaving school with a pretty significant student loan debt<" said Copas. "They look at teacher pay that’s sub-par in comparison to sister states around the nation. And they’re living in a state where it’s no secret to anyone here that the cost of living has gotten significantly high.”

Larson says his district upped the ante – in terms of salary and school district-supplied housing -- to try and attract teachers.

“Our starting salary – never having been in the classroom – in the first year, is $43,000, plus another $10,000 for insurance," said Larson. "And we have housing for $700 a month for either some four-plexes or some houses. In this part of the country, that’s very, very cheap – that’s affordable housing.”

Educational leaders say this is an issue they expect will be a significant discussion during the 2015 Legislative session.

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