Illegal mandates a critical issue … but good teachers also a priority

Illegal mandates a critical issue … but good teachers also a priority

Illegal mandates a critical issue … but good teachers also a priority

Educators across the U.S. have suffered through almost two years of pandemic-related restrictions affecting their interaction with their students. One highly rural state is tackling another major challenge: finding teachers who want to come and stay.

Leaders of Montana's K-12 and higher education convened with Governor Greg Gianforte (R) just before Thanksgiving to discuss goals and continuing challenges facing education in "Big Sky Country." The governor said "heavy-handed mandates [from Washington, DC] threaten our schools and students" – and that he planned to work toward rescinding the "CDC illegal mask mandate" for school buses.

AFN talked with Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation, who applauds the governor's plans. But he says recruitment and retention of good teachers in the vast rural areas of the state is also a major challenge.

Laszloffy, Jeff (Montana Family Foundation) Laszloffy

"The legislature addressed the problem in the last legislative session and bumped up the starting pay for teachers in Montana so that we might be able to recruit some teachers not just into the state but actually into those rural schools where it's most challenging to recruit," he describes.

And on the subject of recruitment, Laszloffy reports the state's higher education system has made strides in enrolling and, more importantly, retaining Native American students. Enrollment of those students was up 8% over last year across the state; and at the University of Montana alone, Native student enrollment increased nearly 25%.

"That's a good thing," he explains. "They're excited about that and they're hoping they can zero in on the reasons for the success and then hope they can capitalize on those successes."

State School Superintendent Elsie Arntzen reported last month that the Office of Public Instruction is in the process of streamlining teacher licensing for 5,000 teachers with an online licensing portal.