- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A bill aimed at addressing South Dakota’s rural teacher shortage survived its first test on Friday, but sponsor Rep. Thomas Holmes has to figure out how to pay for it.

The House Appropriations Committee approved a proposal to offer tuition assistance to certain rural school employees to get teaching degrees in South Dakota if they agree to teach in their same school district for 5 years.

“Small, isolated school districts in this state … have difficulty attracting and retaining teachers,” Holmes, a Sioux Falls Republican, said in an interview. “Many times they hire someone, they’ll leave after a year, and it’s difficult for (the schools).”

But the committee removed the proposal’s $1.5 million appropriation. They balked at the price tag and said removing the dollar amount would keep the bill alive to potentially find financing later.

Wade Pogany, executive director of the Associated School Boards of South Dakota, urged the committee not to immediately discard the idea. He said Holmes’ proposal is one of many ideas that will pop up during the legislative session aimed at addressing the state’s well-known teacher shortage.

Holmes’ proposal covers college tuition for professionals, such as classroom assistants, already working in rural schools. Under the plan, a professional would get a degree from either a public or private South Dakota college and get their tuition covered if they returned to their community to work.

The program is modeled after the state’s existing Critical Teaching Needs Scholarship, which focuses on special education, math and science teachers, Holmes said.

The proposal would allow up to 40 teachers-in-training a year. Republican Rep. Dan Dryden said he supports the bill’s intent, but said $1.5 million from the state’s general fund would be hard to find.

“It’s still alive. That’s the big thing,” Holmes said after the hearing. “The concept is one they like - that’s positive, we’re helping kids.”

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