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By Elinor Smith
UM Legislative News Service and UM School of Journalism 

Bill would create new teacher mentorship program


March 24, 2023

The House Appropriations Committee will now hammer out the details of a bill that would set aside one million dollars a year for a new teacher mentoring program to decide if the investment is worth it.

Rep. Melissa Romano, D-Helena, is the sponsor of House Bill 455. She says teaching can have an especially difficult learning curve and in other careers, new hires have more opportunities to ask questions since their coworkers are right next to them, which just isn’t possible in a classroom setting. But, she says, a statewide teacher mentoring program could help.

“Well-designed mentor programs help beginning teachers stay in the profession at much higher rates. And in addition, mentee teachers also show accelerated professional growth and improved student learning. I believe that Montana has worked very strategically and continues to work strategically to recruit teachers. We have an opportunity with this bill to make sure that when once we have recruited our teachers and they begin their career, that they have a strong systematic support that they can go to and rely on,” Romano said.

The program would match new teachers with peers across the state with more experience teaching in their subject. So, an experienced English teacher would help a new one get started.

According to the fiscal note on the bill, the program would use one million dollars of the state’s general fund every year for the next four years. Both the mentors and mentees would get money from the state should they decide to participate. The program would be optional and at the discretion of each school district.

The appropriations hearing comes after a debate on the House floor on the merits of the program. Some representatives said it would be redundant and expensive. They said some teachers are already mentoring their peers without a mentoring program. Rep. Terry Falk, R-Kalispell, said during Tuesday’s debate that mentoring is already happening in teachers’ lounges and he had a friend who’s mentoring other teachers without spending any state money.

“I'm not, you know, trying to be combative. But he's not paid as a mentor. He's paid as a teacher because he has a classroom. So it's kind of as needed, where needed, kind of thing,” Falk said.

Proponents of the bill said the program would help close a revolving door of new teachers, which costs the state a lot more money in the long run. They said supporting the new teachers schools already have would be not only more sustainable but just easier. Jenny Murnane Butcher is the deputy director of Montanans Organized for Education and she said mentoring programs like this one are crucial to keeping new hires at schools.

“So if I stayed in my teaching position it -- my district would not have had to pay that $9,000-$20,000 to recruit a new teacher. So it -- over time the cost would definitely -- the cost benefit analysis would balance out on one another,” Murnane Butcher said.

Representatives are working on compromises now. Romano said she’d be open to lowering administrative costs of the program to cut back on its costs as much as possible. The committee did not take immediate action on the bill.

Elinor Smith is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.


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