Tester to introduce bill to attract and retain quality teachers to rural Montana

Teachers and administrators endorse Tester’s legislation that will provide a boost to rural schools

(Billings, Mont.) – At the annual MEA-MFT Conference, Senator Jon Tester today announced that he will introduce new legislation to attract and retain teachers in rural Montana schools.

Tester’s bill, the Rural Educator Support and Training (REST) Act, will provide scholarships to college students who commit to teach for at least three years in a rural school. Additionally, Tester’s bill provides student loan forgiveness to teachers who work in rural schools for a minimum of five years.

“As a former elementary school teacher and school board member in a small Montana town, I understand the challenges rural schools face when trying to recruit and retain quality teachers,” Tester said. “In many rural areas the school is the foundation of the town. Building a strong pipeline of motivated teachers from our universities to our rural schools will provide students with a good education and strengthen the entire community.”

MEA-MFT, the School Administrators of Montana and Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau have all endorsed Tester’s bill.

“Nearly 80 percent of Montana’s schools are rural, which means those school leaders face unique challenges in recruiting qualified teachers,” Superintendent Denise Juneau said. “Jon’s bill will give rural students better access to the best educators in Montana.”

“Jon has it right. Recruitment and retention of quality educators is a big deal issue all across our state and nation, but especially in our rural communities,” said MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver. ” In the last analysis, public education is only as good as the educators who work therein. Hence, we must as a state and nation do whatever we can to see that quality educators and schools are there for all our kids no matter where they live. This is a perfect place for the federal government to help.”

“The Rural Educator Support and Training Act proposed by Sen. Jon Tester is legislation that recognizes the importance of recruiting and retaining quality educators for rural schools across the nation. Thank you Sen. Tester for your work to create this opportunity,” said Kirk Miller, Executive Director of the School Administrators of Montana (SAM). “SAM supports the Act and its 3-fold approach to offer educator scholarships/graduate fellowships, loan forgiveness, and National Board certification incentives for rural educators. The passage of this bill will improve recruitment and retention of quality educators to serve Montana’s children, and millions of other children served by rural schools throughout the nation.”

Tester’s bill also allows school districts to receive funding to reimburse teachers in rural schools for their out-of-pocket costs associated with obtaining their certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

A rural school is defined under the REST Act as a school designated as rural by the Census Bureau and located in a district whose average daily attendance is below 600 students, or located in a county with a population density that is less than 10 people per square mile. In Montana, 328 of the state’s 413 school districts are defined as rural.

In August, Tester introduced similar legislation to recruit more teachers to Indian Country. He has also introduced a bill to reduce the number of federally mandated tests, giving teachers and students more flexibility in the classroom.