In its first year, Idaho’s new rural teacher incentive program has several hundred more applicants than it has funds to meet those requests.
Created by the 2022 Legislature in hopes of addressing a teacher shortage, the Rural and Underserved Educator Incentive Program attracted 764 grant applications. With only $750,000 allocated for the first-year cohort, the State Board of Education will use a rubric to select the top 500 applicants.
That would leave out an estimated 264 teachers, who can reapply for the 2023 cohort. The state expects to add 250 new teachers each year.
In addition, another 292 teachers began an application but did not complete it.
Educators representing 104 school districts and 12 charter schools applied. The State Board of Education estimates that there are 2,000 eligible teachers who work in rural or underserved districts. The table below shows the total number of applications from Idaho’s six educational regions.
764 Submitted Applications
Region 1: 55 (7.2%)
Region 2: 80 (10.%)
Region 3: 253 (33.1%)
Region 4: 185 (24.2%)
Region 5: 76 (9.9%)
Region 6: 115 (15.1%)
As teachers gain classroom experience, they have the option of moving to larger districts where there are more resources and higher salaries.
“Because the scope is so small right now, I think (the incentive program) has potential over the long term,” said Tracie Bent, the State Board’s chief planning and policy officer. “So when you’re looking at the need in our more rural districts, and we’ve only been able to help out with 500 teachers this first year, it’s not enough to say, ‘Level the field,’ but I think it has potential to be a tool to use to help recruit and retain teachers in our more rural districts.”
According to the State Board, the next steps in the process include scoring the applications, verifying application information, and contacting winning applicants by the end of December. Those selected will receive four years worth of incentives — if they remain in the same district. Incentives total $1,500 the first year, $2,500 the second year, $3,500 the third year, and $4,500 in the final year.
According to Bent, the program does not include a repayment provision.
The State Board’s rubric assigns a point value to three scoring criteria: degrees of “rurality,” serving in a “separate” school, and economic disadvantage.
Three “rurality” subtypes use distance from an urbanized area as the key measure: a remote school is more than 25 miles from an urban center; a distant school is 5 to 25 miles from an urban center, and a fringe school is within 5 miles of an urban center.
The “separate” criteria assigns full points based on a school’s proximity to another school in the same district serving the same grades. The cutoff are 15 miles for a secondary school, and 10 miles for an elementary school. Schools that don’t meet this criteria receive no points.
The economic disadvantage criteria is based on Title I student eligibility. Schools with more than 60% of students that are Title I eligible receive the highest score. Lower scores go to schools with 50% to 60% eligibility, and 40% to 50% eligibility.
The scoring rubric, Bent noted, could include a broader range of points to avoid having so many teachers with the same score.
“That way we were less likely to get a large group with the same score that fell within the amount of money we had, but not enough to fund them all,” she said.
According to the State Board, the program will provide direct repayment of educational loans or the reimbursement of educational expenses such as advanced degrees, career technical certifications, or other educational expenses like course fees, lab fees, and course-related expenses like books or supplies.
Housing is not an eligible expense within the scope of this program.
“When the legislation was first introduced, a lot of the conversation was around that with this incentive,” Bent said. “But in the way the bill itself is written, it’s not identified as an eligible expense.”
An area of disagreement, Bent added, was what actually constitutes an eligible educational expense. If teachers have any questions about the program or the upcoming selection process, contact program officials here.