On February 20, Sen. Jon Tester announced two bills that would strengthen Native education by boosting teacher recruitment in rural areas and address workforce shortages at Indian country schools.
The Rural Educator Support and Training (REST) Act would address teacher shortages in rural America by providing scholarships, loan forgiveness, and professional development opportunities to educators who commit to work in rural schools.
“This legislation will incentivize folks to come to rural America to teach the next generation of leaders,” said Sen. Jon Tester, a former teacher, in a press release announcing the bills. “Teaching is an honor and a responsibility, and we must fully staff our schools to ensure the future of rural America is strong.”
Teachers working at a rural school for five consecutive years will be eligible for up to $17,500 in federal student loan forgiveness. The REST Act would provide scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students working on degrees in education or school administration who contract with rural schools for at least three years to cover tuition, fees, books, and a living stipend.
The second bill introduced by Sen. Jon Tester is the Native Educator Support and Training (NEST) Act, which will help recruit and retain teachers in Indian country by providing new scholarships, federal student loan forgiveness, and teacher development courses to prospective and existing educators who are either Native American or who commit to teaching at schools that have a high population of Native American students.
“If we want to address teacher shortages head on, we must make college more affordable and accessible to those who want to teach in Indian country,” said Sen. Jon Tester, member of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee. “We must do all we can to incentivize our best and brightest to use their skills in classrooms that are home to Native American students.”
The NEST Act establishes multiple incentive programs for Native American educators and educators working in schools serving a high population of Native American students.
These bills, if passed, would reduce teacher shortages all over Indian country, improving Native education for rural as well as for Native American students.
“Every kid should have access to a world-class education, no matter where they live,” said Sen. Al Franken, who helped introduce the bills. “But educators and students in rural Minnesota and in Indian Country often face unique challenges that schools in metro areas don’t. One of the major challenges I often hear about is that frankly there aren’t enough teachers in those communities. These two bills would help address that, and I’m going to be working to pass them into law so that we can get more teachers to work in these communities to ensure kids receive the education they deserve.”