Smith’s legislation addresses plight of rural education

Last April, parents and teachers stood up and spoke during a Lynd Public Schools school board meeting. The teachers presented a case that teachers dedicated to their profession deserve commensurate compensation.

Tamara Kremin was among those teachers concerned about low pay and teacher retention.

“Especially in this era of teacher shortages, finding and retaining quality staff is becoming difficult,” she told the board. “Research has long recognized there is a connection between school success and the consistency and longevity of teachers. That quality of service flourishes in a respectful and professional atmosphere with fair and equitable compensation.”

Kremin was speaking to an issue that is prevalent across Minnesota and the nation — how to attract and keep good teachers in rural communities. Children in these communities deserve a quality education.

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, who is a member of the Senate Education Committee, announced last Friday she has introduced legislation to help schools in Minnesota and across the country fill their growing need for STEM and special education teachers. The legislation also calls for giving rural districts the resources to overcome teacher shortages and to develop a more-diverse workforce in the nation’s schools.

Smith said her legislation would allow school districts to apply for grants to help them to attract and retain quality teachers. Smith claims that 40 percent of the nation’s small, rural school districts struggle to find teachers and there are shortages in subject areas like special education, foreign language and STEM subjects.

A 2017 Teacher Supply and Demand report released by the Minnesota Department of Education found that more than 6,500 teachers throughout the state left their jobs during the 2014-15 academic year. That is a 46 percent increase since 2008. On average, about one-quarter of teachers leave their jobs after three years and 15.1 percent leave after one year.

The shortage is magnified in rural areas because baby boomers — people approaching retirement age — compose a larger portion of the population. Student population is declining.

So rural education is in trouble. And that is why this legislation is a step in the right direction. However, training teachers to fill critical areas is not enough. School districts need help in providing living wages to teachers. Otherwise, many teachers will just take their training and then go somewhere else so they can make a decent living.