Montana House passes 2 bills seeking, keeping rural teachers

(UM Legislative News Service) The Montana House of Representatives passed two bills Tuesday aimed at recruiting and retaining teachers for rural schools.

Rep. Tyson Runningwolf, D-Browning, is sponsoring House Bill 420, which passed it’s initial vote 70-30. The bill would appropriate $500,000 in state funding to create a series of grants for schools and students to encourage pursuing education degrees and staying in Montana.

“Today our rural schools, especially schools in Indian Country, are struggling to graduate students,” Runningwolf said. “And rural schools finding high quality educators willing to relocate are few to little.”

The grants would be used for programs like helping high schools offer dual enrollment or giving scholarships to college students who study education and live in a community with a teacher shortage.

The House also passed House Bill 459 with a vote of 55-45. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Becky Beard, R-Elliston, would create a special account from excess oil and gas tax revenue for rural schools to retain and recruit teachers. The account would fill with about $500,000 every year and be distributed by a special committee created through the Montana Office of Public Instruction.

“Our rural schools absolutely need this assistance to be able to attract the best qualified, best suited teachers and certified staff for their students,” Beard said.

The House will vote on the bills again before they move to the Senate.

On Saturday, the House passed House Bill 211, another teacher recruitment bill, which would allocate money for the Quality Educator Loan Assistance Program. That program, which gives student loan relief to teachers in rural schools, was stripped of funding in 2017. HB 211 restores the program’s funding.

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