Teacher shortage hits hard across Minnesota

School districts across Minnesota are struggling to hire and retain teachers.

Bob Jaszczak, superintendent of the Kittson Central district, told Minnesota Public Radio News that schools in the rural, northern part of the state have struggled harder than ever to fill open jobs in the past few years.

State data show that teacher turnover is higher in smaller districts. Since 2010, districts of fewer than 300 teachers have accounted for more than 60 percent of the teachers who left for other districts.

State and local school leaders say they've become increasingly concerned by the rising number of school districts across the state confronting such troubles. Filling critical jobs in high-need teaching areas, once viewed only as a rural problem, has become a serious struggle across the Minnesota, but the state has yet to find a consistent solution.

"In a lot of ways I feel like we're the canary in the coal mine," Jaszczak said. "When we're looking for teachers, we will see difficulties before it gets down into a statewide issue."

Attempts to ease shortages by tweaking Minnesota's teacher licensing system have fallen short. The state legislative auditor's office criticized the system in March, calling it was "confusing" and "broken."

The Legislature is considering a new licensure system that would let teachers get some types of licenses with fewer qualifications. There is also a proposal for Minnesota grants to help candidates pay for student teaching.

University of Minnesota professor Misty Sato said the field of education should learn from medicine and technology.

"What those other fields will do is incentivize people to want to do that work," she said. "They'll offer strong beginning salaries. That's how the technical fields compete with people who are coming into teaching."