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Teacher shortage being felt across North Dakota

Lou Aronson spoke about statewide teacher shortages in North Dakota on Thursday to members on the State Teacher Licensing Board in Bismarck on Thursday. TOM STROMME/Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK -- The North Dakota teacher licensing board learned Thursday that the shortage of teachers in North Dakota extends well beyond the Oil Patch.

And while rural school districts have plenty of vacancies, urban ones also had unfilled positions when the school year started, according to data presented at the Education Standards and Practices Board meeting Thursday at the state Capitol in Bismarck.

"We think everyone wants to go to Fargo," said Lou Aronson, teacher shortage researcher for the board, echoing a concern expressed by some rural school administrators. "There's openings in Fargo also."

Cass County, according to her data, had two openings at the start of the school year. Statewide, school districts reported 89 unfilled teaching positions.

Vacancies existed at schools in the Bakken and elsewhere, particularly in south-central North Dakota and in the northeastern part of the state. Aronson said there are a high number of openings on Indian reservations.

"I don't think that this is impossible to fill because we have teacher ed programs in these areas," she said.

Board member Karen Christensen said she has heard educators say they are willing to work as substitute teachers in small towns but not full-time employees because they prefer to live in bigger cities.

Aronson said in Bismarck-Mandan, she knows graduates of schools in one city that refuse to apply for a job in the other.

"I have never seen young adults so loyal to their communities," she said.

Aronson said she is interviewing school administrators about what they have done to fill positions and to find out their most critical needs.

Some newer administrators are unaware of alternatives to the traditional education needed to seek a teacher's license, according to Aronson, who pointed to the program, Transition to Teaching, which provides training to aspiring teachers who have non-teaching baccalaureate degrees or military or industry expertise in areas where there is a teacher shortage.

Applicants growing for teacher loan forgiveness

BISMARCK -- The state's teacher shortage loan forgiveness program has so many applicants that it can no longer fund all who apply, North Dakota University System financial aid director Brenda Zastoupil told the Education Standards and Practices Board on Thursday.

This year, 628 teachers applied to receive up to $1,000 in forgiveness from their college loans. Last year, the number was 525 and the year before, 471.

The program allows teachers to apply multiple years for a maximum of $3,000.

Last year was the first year the program could not provide funding for all teachers who applied, Zastoupil said.

This year, 79 percent of teachers who applied received funding, totaling more than $400,000.

All recipients who re-applied received funding, though money was available for only 203 of the 337 new applicants who applied this year, she said.

Neither the teacher nor STEM loan forgiveness programs receive enough money from the Legislature to fund all qualified applicants, according to Zastoupil.

The STEM occupations student loan forgiveness program operates similarly to the one for teachers, though it provides money to people who hold jobs in approved fields relating to science, technology, engineering and math.