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So. Indiana school district pays for master's degrees to attract teachers

The exterior of a high school building. Marquee reads North Harrison High School
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North Harrison Community Schools
North Harrison Community Schools are covering half the cost of an online master's degree for 18 staff members.

One Indiana school district is offering to help pay for master's degrees as a way to attract teachers and address the staffing shortages that are plaguing schools across the country.

North Harrison Community Schools will cover half the cost of participation in a master’s degree program offered by BloomBoard, a for-profit company that sells professional development programs to school districts. A press release from NHCS says BloomBoard will offer participating staff an accredited master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from a “university partner.” The release does not specify which university will issue the degree.

Program participants must agree to teaching in NHCS for at least three years. According to a NHCS press release, some teachers have already begun work on their credentials.

“Growing and advancing our staff while keeping them teaching supports our school community’s commitment to excellence. This program is a powerful and valuable way to make education a benefit of employment at North Harrison,” NHCS superintendent Nathan Freed is quoted as saying in a press release.

The BloomBoard program allows teachers to earn their master’s degree while remaining in the classroom through online and on-the-job learning. Completion also means staff get a $5,000 pay bump from the school district.

Shortages of teachers, paraprofessionals, bus drivers and other school staff are a major challenge for many school districts. In a 2022 study, 95% of Indiana school superintendents reported teacher shortages.

Kentucky is grappling with the issue as well. Thousands of vacancies mean many classrooms are staffed with substitutes.

Some Kentucky school districts are already offering master's degrees or other certifications as a way to recruit and retain teachers.

Jefferson County Public Schools began its Teacher Residency Program in 2020. Participants can earn their master’s degree in one year from the University of Louisville, with up to $3,000 in costs covered and a $30,000 salary from JCPS. In exchange, participants must commit to working five years in a high-needs JCPS school.

JCPS also offers tuition reimbursement to employees who take courses towards certification in hard-to-staff areas, which now include math, science, special education, English as a second language (ESL) and library sciences.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.