Tackling Teacher Shortages & Strengthening Education for Rural and Native American Students are Aim of Tester Legislation

Senator’s REST and NEST Acts incentivize educators to teach in rural communities and Indian Country

(U.S. Senate) – In his ongoing effort to strengthen education for Montana students, U.S. Senator Jon Tester introduced two bills aimed at incentivizing educators to teach in rural America and in Indian Country.

Tester’s Rural Educator Support and Training (REST) Act addresses teacher workforce shortages in rural America by providing scholarships, loan forgiveness, and professional development opportunities to educators who commit to work in rural schools.

“As a former educator and school board member, I’ve seen firsthand how difficult it can be to find qualified, talented teachers in Montana, especially when you are hundreds of miles from the nearest city,” Tester said. “This bill incentivizes young educators to teach in rural America so we can ensure that kids across our state and this country have access to a quality education no matter where they live.”

The REST Act would provide scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in education or school administration who commit to at least three years of service at a rural school. Educators who work in a rural school for at least five years can qualify for up to $17,500 in federal loan forgiveness and can receive funding to cover the costs of National Board Certification in order to qualify for a salary increase.

Tester also introduced the Native Educator Support and Training (NEST) Act to recruit more Native teachers and retain qualified educators across Indian Country by providing scholarships, federal student loan forgiveness, and teacher development courses to prospective and current educators. Students who are either Native American or commit to teaching at schools that serve a high population of Native students, including local public schools and Bureau of Indian Education schools, would be eligible for these programs.

“Too often, Native American students are left behind-with too few teachers, or resources, and often both,” Tester said. “We’ve got to do more to incentivize our best and brightest to bring their skills to classrooms in Indian Country to ensure that we’re giving kids the best education possible.”

The NEST Act establishes scholarships for students pursuing bachelors or graduate degrees in education or school administration, creates student loan forgiveness plans that waive federal student loans for educators who commit to at least five years of service at a K-12 school or facility that provides early childhood education and houses a high population of Native American students. Like the REST Act, this bill would provide funding support for the cost of National Board Certification for qualifying educators.

Tester’s REST and NEST Acts have received praise from education organizations across Montana:

“School Administrators of Montana and other Montana education advocates have identified (and are working on) the recruitment and retention of quality educators to serve Montana’s children in our public schools. This is key effort by all concerned citizens in Montana,” said Kirk Miller, Executive Director of the School Administrators of Montana. “The REST and NEST Acts introduced by Senator Tester will go far in supporting recruitment and retention of quality educators for Montana’s schools in rural areas and in schools serving significant Native American student populations. Thank you Senator Tester for working to have Congress support a key priority for Montana’s public schools and quite frankly all schools across the nation!”

“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, Executive Director of the Montana Small Schools Alliance.

“One of the greatest challenges facing Montana’s public schools is the teacher and administrator recruitment and retention crisis. Additional issues of low pay, rising health insurance premiums, rurality, and high turnover rates only exacerbate the crisis. The Montana School Boards Association (MTSBA) is engaged in multiple initiatives to stem the crisis through collaboration with our education partners, state legislative solutions and promoting innovate local solutions- but we can’t do it alone and there is no silver bullet,” said Steve Meloy, Director of Government Relations for the Montana School Boards Association. “In consort with our in-state efforts, we enthusiastically endorse the REST and NEST legislation brought by Senator Tester to provide loan forgiveness to rural educators, as well as recruiting more education professionals from Montana’s Native communities and those committed to culturally relevant education who will work hand-in-hand in the best interests of Native children in Montana.”

As a former educator in his home town of Big Sandy, Tester has taken an active role in improving education in rural America and Indian Country. Last year, he helped pass legislation that invested millions into education programs, and earlier this year he helped negotiate a budget deal that funded education initiatives in Indian Country.

You can read the full NEST Act HERE. You can read the full REST Act HERE.

Read more about Tester’s efforts to support education HERE and HERE.