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In Montana: Schools Turn to Virtual Teachers to Combat Shortage

As teacher shortages continue to impact schools across the nation, some schools in Montana are turning to virtual teachers due to the increasing number of vacancies.

For the first time, some Florence-Carlton High School math classes are being taught by virtual teachers provided by the state-funded Montana Digital Academy. Classes like pre-calculus and geometry had always been taught by in-person teachers at the school.

However, in a recent NPR report, Principal Scott Marsh discusses the challenges with hiring qualified candidates and the reality that this year he could not find a qualified candidate to fill an open math position. Florence-Carlton is one of at least 10 schools in Montana relying on the state’s online learning program to fill teaching positions, the most the state has ever seen.

The reliance on virtual teachers is just one symptom of an unprecedented nationwide crisis of rebuilding the teacher pipeline and retaining those in the field. Data from the National Teacher and Principal Survey show Montana schools are struggling to fill nearly 60 percent of open jobs.

Schools nationwide are increasing class sizes, canceling courses, hiring underqualified staff, and turning to virtual learning to cope with the crisis. Low pay and challenging working conditions continue to create barriers.

Despite an effort by state lawmakers to raise new teachers’ salaries, Montana still ranks last in the nation in starting teacher pay. The $33,000 per year starting salary is nearly $10,000 short of the national average.