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In many rural areas throughout the United States, school district administrators regularly face the challenge of attracting and retaining educators who are interested in working and living in their regions. In Colorado, state education leaders have proactively addressed teacher staffing challenges in rural districts in various ways, including developing an innovative, multifaceted stipend program that provides pre- and in-service teachers with funding to complete their teacher preparation programs and further their professional learning.

Since 2017, the Colorado Center for Rural Education (CCRE) and the Colorado Department of Higher Education (CDHE) have provided stipends to rural educators throughout the state. Stipends for in-service teachers include those that provide funding for alternative licensure, National Board Certification, and concurrent enrollment qualifications, as well as rural teaching fellowships. These stipends provide crucial support to rural educators who may not otherwise have the opportunity to pursue such important qualifications.

Stipends for preservice teaching candidates are worth up to $4,000 per semester during their student-teaching semester. Stipend recipients are expected to complete student-teaching in a Colorado rural school district and then apply to a rural school district in the Centennial State after graduating. Eligible applicants must also be enrolled in a teacher preparation program at a Colorado institution of higher education. As defined by the Colorado Department of Education (CDE), a school district “is determined to be rural giving consideration to the size of the district, the distance from the nearest large urban/urbanized area, and having a student enrollment of approximately 6,500 students or fewer. Small rural districts are those districts meeting these same criteria and having a student population of fewer than 1,000 students.”

To better gauge the impact of the rural educator stipend program on teacher retention, CCRE and CDHE partnered with REL Central in 2019 to design an extensive program evaluation plan. REL Central’s technical support as part of our partnership with CCRE and CDHE includes assistance in aligning existing evaluation questions to the logic model for the stipend program, determining the availability of data to answer the evaluation questions, collecting additional relevant data, and using data to make programmatic improvements. The evaluation plan is designed to ultimately aid CCRE and CDHE staff in making program improvements to meet the goals of the stipend program and enhance educational outcomes in rural schools. Initial results from the evaluation have shown encouraging signs, such as a retention rate for rural in-service stipend recipients that is well above the state average.

Given the unique circumstances of rural education, particularly around teacher recruitment, retention, and development, obtaining high-quality data on efforts to improve teacher staffing continues to serve an important purpose. By working with REL Central to evaluate the substantial investment made in rural teachers, Colorado’s education leaders are poised to be better informed as they look to support areas of significant need in the state.