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Rural school districts struggling to hire staff get creative to recruit teachers

Colorado is making it easier to become a teacher to deal with a shortage.

DENVER — The vast majority of Colorado's school districts are in rural areas, and those districts are facing a critical shortage of staff.

In an attempt to curb the issue, the state is making it easier to become a teacher to try and attract more people to rural districts, relying on different tactics to fill hundreds of open positions.  

"There are some schools that haven’t had math teachers for five years," said Dr. Harvey Rude, the director of the Colorado Center for Rural Education. "The issue of educator shortage is something that addresses all schools in all states around the country."

The Center for Rural Education at the University of Northern Colorado provides incentives for people to teach in rural areas, but even that isn’t enough. Some districts now hire community members with bachelor’s degrees to teach classes while they also train them to be teachers.

"This has been a life saver for so many of our rural communities," Rude said. "Hiring them to be a teacher while at the same time they’re completing their requirements to become licensed."

Others are leaning more heavily on remote learning. If a district doesn’t have a math teacher, for example, they’re working to put students in a virtual classroom, regardless of where in the state the teacher leading the class actually works.

"You may be in a class with students from other districts at the same time," Rude said.

More than 80% of the state's 178 school districts are in rural areas, but not all of those places have a cheap cost of living. Rural districts in Colorado’s ski towns can have a particularly hard time finding staff because those are expensive places to live.

The state also passed bills this year, SB-185 and HB-1010, aimed at increasing recruitment and retention of teachers.

They're all potential solutions to a problem that's gone on for years.

"Education is the profession that supports every other profession," said Dr. Rude.

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