Minnesota pushes to overcome teacher shortages

WORTHINGTON, Minn. (KSFY) - With the start of school just weeks away some school districts are trying to hire all the teachers they'll need. Minnesota Senator Tina Smith recently reintroduced legislation to help school districts nationwide staff their schools.

It’s called the Addressing Teacher Shortages Act. It would allow school districts to apply for grants to help retain quality teachers.

The new legislation is needed right now because, as some districts are finding, there may be open positions but they aren't always teachers who are willing to take those jobs.

Minnesota Senator Tina Smith said in a press release that she's hearing from Minnesota school superintendents this summer about many vacancies they are struggling to fill.

Communications Coordinator Parker Sandhurst with Independent School District 518 in Worthington, Minnesota said they're one of those districts.

"It’s always difficult getting in especially young professionals into rural school districts. We have a hard time attracting that demographic," Sandhurst said.

More than 40% of rural school districts are seeing problems. They also face a smaller selection pool for filling positions in specialized fields like stem, foreign language, and special education. District 518 needs six of those positions filled or risk piling on a heavier load for current teachers.

"Yeah unfortunately it does make the student teacher ratio higher than we like to see it. We’re always looking to hire half way through the year," Sandhurst said.

The bill would provide grants to help attract quality teachers. It would also fund smaller under-resourced districts.

"And it still is difficult. It's not an easy profession to sit in that classroom and work with students. It’s a very giving and caring type of person that is needed for that position," Sandhurst said.

“Ultimately, these shortages harm our kids and diminish their opportunities. My bill would help schools overcome challenges and help ensure students get the best education possible,” Smith said.

Smith also added that there is a lack of racial diversity nationwide for teachers. Just 18% are colored.

"I didn't have any until I went to college in Mankato and I was a product of ISD 518," Sandhurst said.

Sandhurst said it's hard to focus on diversity when they're already struggling to find teachers to fill positions.

With Worthington providing a lot of diversity already they have mentor programs that help guide and hold on to newer teachers.

The grant funding would go to at least 25% of rural districts, high needs subject areas and diversifying classrooms.