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The combined elementary, middle and high schools in rural Weldona. (Ann Marie Awad/KUNC.org)
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Some fodder in the quest for rural Colorado teachers

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As Colorado lawmakers search for a solution to teacher shortages statewide, KUNC-FM public radio in Greeley has done some compelling research of its own on the subject. It’s a worthy accompaniment to pending legislation that would study the teacher recruitment and retention woes vexing many smaller school districts across the state — especially in rural communities.

KUNC’s Ann Marie Awad offers an eye-opening, up-close look at how chronic teacher shortages really affect small-town school districts, and she also examines efforts, including by the legislature, to do something about it.

The question arises whenever teacher recruitment is at issue: Does it come down to low teacher salaries in rural climes? Reports Awad:

Some feel the state’s teacher effectiveness law is part of the reason. Passed in 2010, some teachers say the law placed a host of new pressures on them. Others point to pay. Colorado is among the top ten states with the largest declines in teacher salaries since 2004.

State Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, tells Awad the problem does indeed appear to be more complex than compensation alone:

A former teacher herself, McLachlan is the first to admit that she doesn’t have all the answers. Which is why she sponsored House Bill 1003 to have the state departments of education and higher education band together to study the problem.

“We need to have a serious talk with all the stakeholders in it, you know, the kids and the parents and the administrators, and the business people and — what is best for our area?” she says “And what’s best for the Fort Collins area may be very different from what’s best for even Denver area.”

Specifically, HB 1003 would task the Department of Higher Education, the Colorado Department of Education, school districts and teachers unions with studying teacher shortages in Colorado, identifying root causes, and recommending strategies for improving the recruitment and retention of teachers in all areas of the state.

Awad reports that McLachlan also is carrying a bill with two rural Republican lawmakers to lure retired teachers back onto the job if they are willing to work in a rural classroom. House Bill 1176 would  permit retired teachers to earn a salary in a rural school district without a reduction in their state pension benefits.

Both measures have passed the state House of Representatives and are now awaiting a hearing in the Senate Education Committee.

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