Montana’s teacher shortage ‘crisis’ intensifies

Montana faces worsening teacher shortage ‘crisis’ even as education officials fear key support for students – mental health care through school and community treatment program full – stay in limbo.

Beth Brenneman, of Disability Rights Montana, said parents of about 4,500 children who receive mental and behavioral health services in schools through the CSCT do not know if the program will continue, and she asked legislators to give assurances to families.

“People are panicking,” Brenneman said.

Diane Fladmo, of the Montana Federation of Public Employees, said she knows the Office of Public Education and the Department of Public Health and Human Services are working hard to keep the program, but providers are nervous and hurry up. She urged lawmakers to closely monitor the agencies’ progress.

“I hope you will join in both the effort and the monitoring of these so that we are not faced with a loophole and we do not allow a system that has been so critical to our schools to collapse. “said Fladmo. mentionned. “We want to keep teachers. That’s another part. Part of retaining teachers is having support.”

The Montana Legislature’s Education Committee heard updates Wednesday on the two topics: the status of the CSCT program, which provides mental and behavioral health care to schoolchildren through Medicaid but is on the ropes, and a significant increase in the number of schools unable to hire teachers.

RECRUITMENT OF TEACHERS and retention is a battle, and at least a few data points show the problem is close to crisis, according to a presentation from the Bureau of Public Education.

“You will see that there has been a significant impact on this crisis, if you will, on retention and recruitment before COVID, but after COVID it has been” exacerbated, said Julie Murgel, senior director of innovation and improving schools at OPI.

In 2021, the Office of Public Instruction received the most requests for “emergency authorizations” to hire teachers since at least 2005; Districts apply for emergency clearances when they exhaust all opportunities to hire a licensed educator and gain permission to hire a teacher without certification.

The number reached 120 in 2021, from 23 in 2017 and 43, 94 and 84 in the following years, according to the presentation by Crystal Andrews, director of educator accreditation at OPI. Previous years were often single-digit or even zero.

“As you can see from last year’s data, our number is at an all-time high, significantly,” Andrews said.

And the number of schools with unlicensed teachers is at a “record high”, dropping from 69 in 2019-2020 to 136 in 2020-21, Andrews said. She also noted a critical shortage of teachers seeking initial licensing in “areas of critical approval,” such as art, math, English, and music.

“Our key points in this data are that there is a significant reduction in primary education from 600 teachers (in 2019) to 470 teachers (in 2020) and that special education is at its lowest for four years,” she declared.

In addition, since 2016-2017, teachers’ initial licensure has declined and is at its lowest for “a significant amount” at 1,251 compared to around 1,400 to 1,600 in other years, she said. . Meanwhile, one of the state’s largest school districts is hiring more than 70 teachers for this school year alone.

“Anything we can do to help encourage the field of education and bring teachers back into the classroom is my goal,” Andrews said.

Superintendent of Public Education Elsie Arntzen said Montana faces the problem in part because of its rural nature. She also said it was important to be flexible with schools and overcome obstacles.

“There is discrimination against these out-of-state teachers in our state license,” Arntzen said.

She did not give details and the OPI did not respond to a request for additional information. However, the Montana legislature failed to pass at least one bill that would have required the state to certify any teacher “in good standing” elsewhere, said opponents of legislation hampering Montana standards, such as having a bachelor’s degree. from an accredited university.

In a discussion with lawmakers, however, Representative Linda Reksten, R-Polson, said there is a clear marketing opportunity, because teaching in Montana is better than teaching in a place like Chicago, for example. example.

“Montana is a great place to come,” said Reksten.

BPR ALSO gave lawmakers an update on its attempt to straighten out the comprehensive school and community treatment program, and members of the public urged the state to work quickly to ensure children can continue to receive health care mental and behavioral in their schools.

Fladmo said she knows agencies are working hard, but suppliers are nervous about their work as time is running out for contracts.

In the past, schools could provide a required CSCT match with in-kind support, like laptops or staff time, but this year they learned that a difficult match seemed to be required instead.

Sharyl Allen, deputy superintendent of OPI, said a proposed solution whereby schools contribute to a difficult match and then receive a refund covering both the cost of the service and the cost of the match did not work with the OPI’s audit and legal staff. She described it as “a slippery slope” and said OPI would not recommend this option.

“This is our big challenge,” Allen said.

But Representative David Bedey, R-Hamilton, wanted to know if DPHHS legal counsel had the same opinion given his close work with Medicaid, and DPHHS agreed to inquire. The puzzle is figuring out a rate of pay that providers will accept, the rate that Medicaid will reimburse, the source of local funds, and administrative fees, which DPHHS noted it only recently received from the OPI.

In the past, the DPHHS oversaw the CSCT program, and last year paid the required amount during the pandemic. But the money is not in the general fund. The Montana legislature asked OPI and DPHHS to sort out the issue with CMS and school districts, and they provided $ 2.2 million as “bridging” money to keep the program going for a few months. The idea was that the state could develop a reimbursement plan that would cover the costs with federal money.

Going forward, however, the OPI said districts had to shell out money. Allen said they could either pay for the program in full with federal coronavirus relief assistance or find non-federal dollars for a 35% match, such as money from a permissive levy or a tax credit.

Time is running out because contracts with service providers have to be renegotiated.

During the meeting, OPI officials rebuffed suggestions that the agency was lagging behind. Allen said the OPI had no idea until the spring that it would need to take over administration with the DPHHS, and she said the agency had spoken to other states already, but that the correspondence requirement comes from the federal government.

The agencies will fix the problem, said Marie Matthews of DPHHS. Matthews, branch director of Medicaid and Health Services, said the agencies would land on the same page despite the current challenges.

“It’s a chore to get there,” she said. “Absolutely. We’re going through growing pains. But we’ll get there.”

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