Tester Announces Legislation to Strengthen Education for Rural Students, Montana Veterans, Native Americans

U.S. Senator Jon Tester today announced a trio of bills to boost teacher recruitment in rural Montana, strengthen veterans’ access to education benefits, and address workforce shortages at Indian Country schools.

Tester announced that he will be introducing the Rural Educator Support and Training (REST) Act to address teacher workforce shortages in rural America by providing scholarships, loan forgiveness, and professional development opportunities to educators who commit to work in rural schools.

“This legislation will incentivize folks to come to rural America to teach the next generation of leaders,” said Tester, a former teacher. “Teaching is an honor and a responsibility, and we must fully staff our schools to ensure the future of rural America is strong.”

The REST Act would provide scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in education or school administration who contract with rural schools for at least three years to cover tuition, fees, books, and a living stipend. Under the legislation, educators who work in a rural school for five years can apply for up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness. Additionally, educators in rural schools can receive funding to cover the costs of National Board Certification and their schools receive funding to provide them with a $5,000 – $10,000 salary increase.

Tester also announced he will be introducing the Educational Development (ED) for Troops and Veterans Act.

This bill will do five things:

  • Fixes a problem with existing law that prohibits certain National Guardsmen and Reservists from getting their full education benefits under the GI Bill
  • Ensures the GI Bill benefits for members of the National Guard and Reserve keep up with the annual cost of tuition
  • More fairly distributes housing benefits to student veterans
  • Allows service members to defer their student loans during pre-deployment training
  • Establishes a grant program to help colleges establish veteran education centers

“Our service members have earned a quality education and it is our duty to make sure they maximize the benefits they earned while serving our country,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “This legislation will help Montana’s brave men and women get the education they need to transition to civilian life.”

Tester also introduced the Native Educator Support and Training (NEST) Act to help recruit and retain teachers in Indian Country by providing new scholarships, federal student loan forgiveness, and teacher development courses to prospective and existing educators who are either Native American or who commit to teaching at schools that serve a high population of Native students, including local public schools and Bureau of Indian Education schools.

“If we want to address teacher shortages head on, we must make college more affordable and accessible to those who want to teach in Indian Country,” said Tester, member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “We must do all we can to incentivize our best and brightest to use their skills in classrooms that are home to Native American students.”

Tester’s NEST Act establishes multiple incentive programs for Native American educators and educators who work in schools serving a high percentage of Native American students. The NEST Act establishes scholarships for these educators’ bachelor or graduate degrees in education or school administration, creates student loan forgiveness plans that will forgive federal student loans for these educators who commit to at least five years of service, and covers the cost of National Board Certification and an accompanying $5,000 – 10,000 salary increase.

Tester’s legislation received endorsements from a variety of Montana groups.

“Senator Tester knows we have a serious problem recruiting and retaining quality educators in rural Montana, especially in Indian Country. And he intends to do something about it. He is proposing a mix of federally funded loan forgiveness for rural and Indian educators and incentives for rural teachers to pursue National Board Certification. By so doing Senator Tester is now challenging Congress to do the right thing not only in Montana but across rural and Native American school communities nationwide,” said Eric Feaver, MEA-MFT President.

“Teacher recruitment and retention is the highest priority for the MREA. We know that many pre-service educators are not aware of the advantages of teaching in rural communities in states like Montana and providing them incentives to attract them to these areas has proven to be successful. We applaud Senator Tester’s efforts through the reintroduction of NEST and REST legislation to target rural locales across the country and particularly here in his home state where he has a deep personal understanding of the issues facing rural schools,” said Dennis Parman, Montana Rural Education Association Executive Director.

“The Montana Small Schools Alliance is in full support of legislation addressing recruitment, retention and loan forgiveness for rural teachers and schools. We applaud Senator Tester’s resolve in pressing for federal resources addressing this critical need in rural education,” said Dan Rask, Montana Small Schools Alliance Executive Director.

“School Administrators of Montana supports Congress approval of the REST and NEST Acts for addressing the challenges of recruitment and retention of quality educators to serve Montana’s public schools. SAM appreciates Senator Tester’s effort to recognize rural and frontier Montana needs for rural educator and native educator support and training as provided in these two acts,” said Kirk Miller, School Administrators or Montana Executive Director.

“By providing incentives to college students to pursue degrees in education and later serve in areas with teacher shortages, Senator Tester’s proposed legislation will go a long way in helping to fix the problem of teacher recruitment in Montana,” said Rita Wells, Billings Education Association President.

Educational Development (ED) for Troops and Veterans Act
“Montana State University is fully committed to the education of veterans. We enthusiastically support Senator Tester’s bill and the expanding educational opportunities it provides to an increased number of our country’s veterans,” said Waded Cruzado, Montana State University President.