Best of the West: Easing teacher shortages; a $74 million geothermal investment; innovative fertilizer, rebuilding eroded coastlines

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting Feb. 6, 2023. (Photo courtesy of Adobe Stock, Utah FORGE, and Universal Hydrogen)

Every state in the U.S. faced teacher shortages in 2022, according to the U.S. Department of Education. To ease the impact on students, the West is implementing practices to build and sustain a high-quality education workforce. During this year’s State of the State and inaugural addresses, enhancing schooling and building the labor force was a common theme among Western Governors. 

Creating a pipeline of qualified educators is a key focus for western states. The University of Hawaii at Manoa received a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Education Department for a program to train future special education instructors. Project Equal Access will prioritize diversity and prepare students to work in underserved communities, focusing on recruitment, preparation, support, placement, and retention. 

Wyoming’s Department of Education launched a community-led retention and recruitment task force to overcome obstacles that cause employment deficiencies. Members of the task force will work with the University of Wyoming and other institutes to learn effective practices for hiring instructors. 

In Nevada, the Carson City School District is fast-tracking teacher certification for individuals with a bachelor’s degree. The Grow Your Own program will coordinate with the national licensing provider iteachNEVADA to manage the alternative route to licensure. 

“We are looking to members of our local community who have earned college degrees and have considered becoming a teacher but may have been discouraged by the cumbersome licensure process,” said Carson City School District Superintendent Andrew Feuling.

The New Mexico Higher Education Department offers state-backed loan relief to retain and recruit educators. Recipients agree to work in the field for two years in exchange. In 2022, 1,000 employees received financial help with loan payments. 

A lack of counselors is another barrier schools face. A program created by the University of Oklahoma aims to increase the number of counselors, behavior analysts, and social workers in rural areas. The program covers tuition, fees, and other costs and has space for 64 future providers. Learn how Governors are addressing rural workforce shortages in the June 2020 Special Report of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s Reimagining the Rural West initiative.

Geothermal Everywhere: Enhanced Geothermal Systems (EGS) could provide 65 million Americans with clean, reliable power. The U.S. Department of Energy will invest $74 million in EGS pilot demonstrations to advance the technology. Watch a webinar from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ Heat Beneath Our Feet initiative to learn more about EGS research at the federally funded Utah FORGE facility.

Zero-Emissions Flight: California-based Universal Hydrogen received the green light from the Federal Aviation Administration to test a hydrogen fuel cell aircraft. The airplane will take the spot as the largest fuel cell-powered airplane to take flight, which will occur at the Grant County International Airport in Washington. Major airline carriers like American Airlines out of Texas are investing in the development to help advance environmentally friendly travel. 

Innovative Lentil Fertilizer: Lentil crops are increasingly popular in Montanagrowing from 67,000 to 585,000 acres from 2000 to 2022. A three-year study by Montana State University and North Dakota State University scientists discovered that sulfur fertilizer and soil inoculants could increase lentil yields. The method also boosts nitrogen fixed in the soil, reducing the fertilizer needed for crops and mitigating environmental impacts associated with over-fertilizing. 

Restoring Coastlines with Rocks: A cranberry farmer in Washington established a process that could rebuild eroding shorelines in the Pacific Northwest. In 2016, David Cottrell dumped $400 worth of rocks on Blue Pacific Drive, previously the region’s fastest-eroding shoreline. The rocks shift with the waves and collect sand that’s successfully restoring the beach, similar to practices that Indigenous communities use to cultivate shellfish.  

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