DENVER – Gov. Jared Polis signed into law Monday a bill that will expand a program offering rural teachers stipends, an incentive that lawmakers hope will draw teachers to the schools most affected by a statewide teacher shortage.
Senate Bill 9 offers annual stipends of $4,000 to teachers who spend two years in a rural district and $6,000 to rural teachers seeking a national board certification. In years past, the program had been limited to 100 applicants, but SB 9 lifts that cap and will require the General Assembly to provide extra funding, if needed, to meet demand.
“We must ensure teachers stay in our rural communities, in our state and in our classrooms,” said Rep. Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, a former teacher who sponsored the bill in the House.
Colorado is short more than 3,000 teachers, vacancies that particularly affect rural areas of the state where pay is lower. Some rural school districts have teaching vacancies that last for years, while others can’t compete with the draw of wealthier, urban schools.
Lawmakers are trying to lure teachers to rural schools with bills that offer stipends, loan forgiveness and professional development. But none of the bills address the underlying issue – that Colorado teacher salaries remain among the lowest in the country.
All schools in Southwest Colorado are considered rural, and Durango School District 9-R is the largest, with around 5,000 students.
Teachers in Southwest Colorado may still see a pay hike as an indirect benefit of lawmakers’ pledge to fund full-day kindergarten. Lawmakers set aside $185 million to fund one of Polis’ signature campaign promises.
In District 9-R, for instance, about $1.2 million from its general fund is devoted to paying for 15 full-day kindergarten classrooms at its eight elementary schools. The district has a total of 411 kindergarteners this year. In Durango, state-funded kindergarten would free $1.2 million from the general fund to cover most of the district’s anticipated increased salary costs for its teachers.