Bill would expand teacher retention program in rural Montana schools

Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad

(UM Legislative News Service) A bill introduced in a legislative committee Monday would build on a state program aimed at recruiting and retaining quality educators in rural Montana through student loan assistance and other incentives.  

Rep. Llew Jones, a Republican from Conrad, is carrying House Bill 211, which would make loan assistance payments to teachers tax exempt. It would also allocate $400,000 for school districts with teachers who qualify for loan assistance to help incentivize those teachers to stay.

Lance Melton, executive director of the Montana School Boards Association, spoke in support of the bill.

“The smaller and more rural you get, the more critical your circumstances generally are,” Melton said.

The existing, but unfunded, Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program allows an educator at a school with a critical shortage of teachers to get loan assistance from the state for up to three years. A school district is defined as critically needy if it struggles to fill open positions.

The level of assistance increases each year, so an eligible teacher would receive $3,000 the first year and $5,000 the third year.

Two people representing eastern Montana schools spoke in “slight” opposition of the bill, saying its language would deny the benefits to some needy schools. Jones said he would consider amending that language.

Another bill will deal with allocating funds to the loan assistance program.

Shaylee Ragar is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.