State School Superintendent Kirsten Baesler said Wednesday that a new state government partnership with Minot State University will help ease North Dakota’s shortage of special education teachers.

Baesler said the Department of Public Instruction and Gov. Doug Burgum are awarding a $750,000 grant to Minot State, which will pay for scholarships for 20 paraprofessionals who work with special education students. This financial aid will help the paraprofessionals earn bachelor of science degrees with a major in special education, Baesler said. The degree is necessary to become a licensed special education teacher.

The $750,000 comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, approved by Congress in March, which included emergency assistance to schools.

“These scholarships are targeted for experienced paraprofessionals who already work with special education students, and have shown their enthusiasm for that profession,” Baesler said. “They will cover the cost of seven semesters of instruction for each recipient, and scholarship winners will be able to take instruction online.

“We have a strong demand among special education paraprofessionals to step up their training and get their teaching licenses,” Baesler continued. “This new grant provides the financial resources for more of them to do that.”

Dr. Holly Pedersen, chairwoman of the special education department at Minot State, said she was “thrilled to have this opportunity to partner with NDDPI and find new solutions to address the special education teacher shortage that is happening nationwide.”

“Our team is ready to add this new pathway that’s designed to leverage the experience of working paraprofessionals,” Pedersen said.