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North Dakota: A Leader in New Teacher Apprenticeships

BISMARCK, N.D., March 24, 2023 – State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said North Dakota has begun a new, innovative teacher apprenticeship initiative as part of a broader strategy to address the state’s shortage of classroom educators.

North Dakota is a leader in a small vanguard of states that have taken steps to offer apprenticeships for classroom paraprofessionals, following Tennessee, which was the first state to win approval for a teacher apprenticeship program. It will give prospective educators an opportunity, while they earn their college degrees, to have their tuition paid while also gaining classroom teaching experience under a mentor’s supervision.

The program started with federal COVID-19 emergency funds, and North Dakota hopes to continue it with U.S. Labor Department assistance. The Department of Public Instruction plans to apply for a share of $85 million in apprenticeship grants that the Labor Department intends to award nationwide, Baesler said. The application deadline is May 1, with grants awarded afterward.

The NDDPI has already been approved as a sponsoring agency for apprenticeships, meaning it has authority to distribute future grant funds to North Dakota college education departments that want to participate in the initiative. The colleges offer the necessary training for student paraprofessionals to become credentialed teachers.

Baesler said the NDDPI is collaborating with other agencies in supporting apprenticeships, including the governor’s office, the Education Standards and Practices Board – which licenses school teachers – and the Department of Career and Technical Education.

Minot State University, the University of Mary in Bismarck, and Valley City State University have already been approved to provide paraprofessional-to-teacher programs, said Laurie Matzke, the NDDPI’s assistant superintendent.

The three universities are already receiving federal COVID-19 relief funds and money from other sources to cover the tuition costs of classroom paraprofessionals who are working to obtain an education degree, which is a prerequisite for becoming a licensed teacher.

At Minot State, paraprofessionals are having their tuition paid as they work to become special education teachers. More than 100 are presently enrolled. The University of Mary, which is focusing on general education paraprofessionals and those who work in a group of rural school districts, have more than 40 students who are having one-third of their tuition expense paid.

Valley City State University is aiding paraprofessionals who want to concentrate on dual licensure, which means becoming licensed to teach in two areas instead of one, or in two grades rather than one. Two examples would be a dual license in general education and special education, or a dual license in general education and early childhood education.

Paraprofessionals who are receiving aid at the three universities were chosen for the aid program by their respective school districts. Matzke said all three universities have waiting lists of paraprofessionals who are interested in taking part. School officials are focusing on educators who are already working in North Dakota schools, believing they more likely to stay at their school after they get their teaching degree, Matzke said.

North Dakota is one of seven states that began the National Registered Apprenticeship in Teaching Network to promote teacher apprenticeships, said David Donaldson, the founder of the National Center for Grow Your Own, a nonprofit that assists states in the effort.

Baesler said the states will exchange information about the design and implementation of apprenticeships and provide suggestions for improvement to the Labor Department. Aside from North Dakota, the network’s founding members are California, Florida, Missouri, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming. The number of states that belong has since grown to 16.

The apprenticeship initiative is one of several that the Department of Public Instruction is advocating to help address the state’s teacher shortage. Earlier this month, the Education Standards and Practices Board has declared all North Dakota academic content areas as being part of a “critical shortage” for the 2023-224 school year.

The North Dakota Legislature is also considering bills to increase the state’s supply of teachers.
SB2032 would appropriate $3 million to the Department of Public Instruction to continue tuition aid for North Dakota paraprofessionals who are working toward teaching degrees. The Senate has approved the legislation, and the House Appropriations Committee is considering it.

SB2033 would restart a teacher student loan forgiveness program that was allowed to lapse. The bill appropriates $3 million for loan forgiveness over two years, administered by the NDDPI. Benefit range from $10,000 to $20,000 over four years, depending on the need for the teaching position and its location. The Senate has approved the bill, and the House Appropriations Committee is reviewing it.

HB1304 provides an educator the authorization to teach special education if he or she lacks a bachelor’s degree but has completed their special education coursework, done student teaching in special education, and passed the special education licensure exam. Teachers with the special education authorization are required to get their bachelor’s degree within two years. The bill is in the House, where representatives will decide whether to approve some Senate amendments.