U.S. Sen. Tina Smith of Minnesota, who is a member of the Senate education committee, reintroduced legislation to help schools and districts in Minnesota and across the country hit hard by teacher shortages.

Sen. Smith is pushing the legislation, because right now there are not enough teachers to meet the demand in all locations and in all fields, resulting in teacher shortages. More than 40 percent of the nation’s small, rural school districts struggle with adequately staffing their schools, and shortages are most acute in certain subject areas. There is a growing need for STEM, foreign language and special education teachers.

Additionally, there is a severe lack of racial diversity. Nationwide teachers of color compromise only 18 percent of the teacher workforce. Smith’s bill – the Addressing Teacher Shortages Act – would allow school districts across the country to apply for grants to help them to attract and retain the quality teachers they need. The bill would also fund U.S. Department of Education efforts to help smaller and under-resourced districts apply for grants.

“I’m hearing from Minnesota school superintendents this summer about many vacancies they are struggling to fill. More than 40 percent of our nation’s small, rural school districts report that it’s difficult to hire the teachers they need,” said Smith, “and it’s especially difficult to hire in hard-to-staff areas like STEM subjects, career and technical education and special education. “Ultimately, these shortages harm our kids and diminish their opportunities. My bill will help schools overcome these challenges and help ensure students get the best education possible.” 

“There are many reasons for the shortage of teachers in Minnesota schools, so any federal program must give local districts the freedom to choose their own solutions,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. “Sen. Smith’s grant program does just that. Mentoring, induction programs, targeted support for educators of color and tuition assistance are all proven strategies for districts to try, or expand, with Addressing Teacher Shortage Act grants. It’s refreshing to see federal legislation that makes so much sense for schools, educators and the students we serve.”

Funding under the grant could be used to establish or expand:

• Teaching residency programs

• Teacher mentor programs

• “Grow Your Own” programs

• “2+2” programs

• Programs at an institution of higher education that encourage students majoring in STEM fields to take courses in education

• Teacher preparation pathways in secondary schools

Other evidence-based strategies to in-crease teacher retention and support teachers, would include:

• Increasing access to technology for professional development in rural areas

• Supporting teachers in fulfilling requirements to become certified in an additional subject area, to obtain National Board Certification or to teach Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or dual or concurrent enrollment programs

• Induction programs for new teachers

• Tuition assistance, housing allowances or stipends for student teachers, first-year teachers and second-year teachers

• Professional development for school administrators focusing on teacher leadership or teacher retention

The grant funding would be distributed with at least 25 percent going to rural districts, high-needs subject areas and to diversify the teaching workforce, respectively and 5 percent to Bureau of Indian Education schools. Remaining funding could be allocated at the secretary’s discretion. This legislation is supported by American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and Education Minnesota.