Loan forgiveness programs should help teacher shortage

Plenty during last year’s legislative session attracted plenty of attention. But a possibly fairly small item might end up having tremendous impact on the state and on education.

Substantial changes were made to the state’s debt relief program for teachers. Applications now must come from school districts, rather than individual teachers. Teachers will no longer receive benefits under the state’s former program. Districts may seek loan forgiveness for positions in areas where the Department of Public Instruction has determined that a teacher shortage or critical need exists. School districts may apply for debt relief for no more than two teaching jobs at any one time. Once a teaching position has been filled, the teacher is eligible for as many as four years of student loan debt forgiveness. The teacher remains eligible even if his or her position is not included on a future shortage or critical need list. No more than two teachers in any one district may benefit from the forgiveness program at once. Payments on behalf of the teacher are made directly to the loan servicer.

The critical need teaching positions that qualify for teacher student loan relief are: Science, Business and Office Technology, Agricultural Education, Technology and Engineering Education, and Computer Science. Teacher shortage areas are in prekindergarten through 8th grade; elementary music education; mathematics; English language arts; social studies; guidance counselors and special education teachers in prekindergarten through 12th grade; family and consumer sciences; foreign languages; English learners; library media specialists; and career clusters.

The revised system enables the state to target the most needed areas with potential debt relief, empowering districts to attract and retain teachers where they are most needed. Such targeted opportunities will permit administrator and districts to shore up weaknesses, retaining the viability of programs and course studies that are otherwise threatened. “We needed to be focused with what we were offering our teachers who go to our rural, isolated school districts that have a critical need,” State Superintendent Kirsten Baesler explained.

This is a good move by state authorities and will hopefully begin to pay off in the near future, securing access to education to students regardless of location and tract.