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Idaho's rural teacher shortage can be solved by attracting local talent

Updated: Jul 21, 2023

Small towns are known for news traveling fast and one frequent topic of conversation is the local school. Rural communities rally around their school discussing athletic events, activities, and the ever present and ballooning issue of missing teachers. For rural communities, across the country and even more dramatically in the Western States, a rural teacher shortage is reaching crisis point.

Fewer teachers are entering the traditional training programs by obtaining a bachelor’s in education, making it a problem for all communities. The challenges increase in rural areas where the starting salary averages $33,200 versus $40,500 for urban positions. High turnover also exists in all school positions, but especially with rural schools, where attrition is 8.4 percent per year, versus 7.3 and 7.9 percent for suburban and urban teachers, respectively.

Idaho is also facing a teacher shortage, which is amplified in rural school districts. Usually, these shortages revolve around the difficult to fill math, special education, and ESL teachers, but this trend has expanded and school districts are finding it harder to fill elementary school vacancies.

President of the Idaho State Board of Education, Dr. Linda Clark said, “This is not just an Idaho problem, it is a nationwide problem, and it is incumbent on education leaders to find ways to mentor the people who are filling these positions to ensure that quality education continues in our classrooms.”

An informal survey in the summer of 2022, found that Idaho was short staffed by over 900 teachers. The recent board meeting of the Idaho State Board of Education on October 20th found that this number dropped to 134 vacancies by the start of the year. Of these vacant positions, 68 percent are in Special Education, 52 percent are in Math, and 35 percent are in Science.

Research shows that teacher shortages, especially rural teacher shortages cannot be solved by money alone. Disappointing news for the bill signed in March, authorizing $12,000 in incentives for rural teachers who stay beyond one year. Non-local teachers who move to rural schools are unlikely to last beyond three years, and despite pay increases will not stay. A study in Australia, analyzed rural teacher incentive packages and the top-rated incentive was the promise of a guaranteed transfer to an urban school district after two years!

Looking locally is the solution for solving the rural teacher shortage. Nationwide, ‘grow-your-own’ teacher training programs are finding some success, access to alternative certification is helping schools find teachers that are more committed to staying, and apprenticeship programs are showing promise.

Idaho's State Board of Education is looking to push an apprenticeship program that would allow teachers to be certified without obtaining a four-year degree or going through an alternative certification program. Apprentices would be paid while working in the classroom, unlike their student-teacher counterparts.

With Idaho’s many rural school districts, it’s wise to look towards a solution that uses the talent pool already in these communities. The apprenticeship program helps local citizens improve their career potential and may attract non-teacher subject matter experts who live in the community. These locally sourced teachers are more likely to be committed to their community for the long-term, an improved situation for rural Idaho youth.

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