- Associated Press - Friday, September 5, 2014

ST. PAUL, Minn. — School officials in Minnesota’s rural districts said they have noticed a sharp decline in teacher applications.

Chris Mills, Stephen-Argyle district’s superintendent, told Minnesota Public Radio News that only eight people applied for a job for the fall. He says 10 years ago, the rural, northwest district would have received between 80 and 100 applications.

Randy Bruer, superintendent of the Win-E-Mac district in Erskine, also said a teacher opening there drew less interest than usual, with only 20 people applying compared with the typical 150 for that type of position.

Fred Nolan, executive director of the Minnesota Rural Education Association, said superintendents speculate more young teachers are shying away from taking jobs in rural areas and opting to work in larger towns and cities.

“We don’t really have any concrete evidence about why, there’s some speculation, hypothesis about what’s going on,” Nolan said. “But it is a growing trend and I think it’ll continue.”

Nolan also said talk of low pay and increasing scrutiny of teacher performance might also be steering people away from the field.

There are fewer candidates in Minnesota overall. The Minnesota Department of Education said the number of people who completed teacher prep programs at Minnesota colleges dropped by 16 percent from 2009 to 2011.

Janine Wahl, director of clinical experience for teacher candidates at Bemidji State University, said she wants the state to closely examine the Minnesota Teacher Licensure Exam, also known as the Basic Skills Test, which covers reading, writing and college-level math.

She said she thinks it’s keeping some quality teachers out of the classroom.

Richard Wassen of the state’s education department said Minnesota needs to provide more incentives for teachers to lure them to rural districts. He said those incentives could include expanding college loan forgiveness programs for new teachers who take such jobs.