North Dakota uses ‘grow your own’ strategy to address shortage in special-education teachers

September 25, 2020

The state of North Dakota is partnering with one of its public universities to help school districts address a persistent, widespread workforce challenge — the shortage of licensed special-education teachers. Using a $750,000 grant from the state, Minot State University will create a new scholarship program

Picture of classroom and chalkboard

that allows 20 education paraprofessionals to earn a degree in special education. These 20 individuals already have been working with special-education students in the state. North Dakota is using a portion of its money from the federal CARES Act to fund the scholarship program, which will cover seven semesters of instruction for each recipient.

This kind of “grow your own” strategy is being used by an increasing number of states as they try to address teacher shortages. In Minnesota, for example, the state funds a $1.5 million grant program that school districts can use in one of two ways: 1) provide tuition scholarships or stipends to paraprofessionals who are employed by the district and seeking a teaching license; or 2) encourage high school students to pursue teaching. (With both options, the grants are limited to school districts with more than 30 percent minority students.)

In Kansas, under a two-year pilot program of the Kansas Department of Education, school districts identified paraprofessionals and others “with great potential,” and then helped these individuals become teachers via an accelerated licensure pathway created by the state. This initiative was for elementary-school and special-education teachers. The efficacy of the program is now being evaluated.