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School Leaders' Groups Praise Loan Forgiveness Proposal for Principals

UPDATED

School leaders' groups are throwing their support behind a House bill that would provide up to seven years of student loan forgiveness for principals who work in schools in which at least 30 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced price lunch.

The National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the American Federation of School Administrators said that the bill, known as the Recruiting and Retaining Effective School Leaders Act, would encourage more school leaders to work in high-needs schools, strengthen the principal pipeline, and reduce turnover.

To qualify for the federal student loan forgiveness, principals will have to graduate from a "high-quality" program, be employed as a full-time principal for at least one school year, and meet other eligibility requirements. The loans must have been taken out on or after July 1, 2010, according to the bill.

The loan would be forgiven over a seven-year period, at a rate of 15 percent each year for the first four years and 20 percent annually in the following three, according to the bill. 

A spokesman for Rep. Susan Davis, (D-Calif.), who introduced the bill this week, stressed that only principals who graduated from "the best programs" would qualify for the loan cancellations and that the principals must work in low-income schools for a significant period of time to receive the benefit.

"Schools deserve the best leaders, they deserve consistency," said Aaron Hunter, the spokesman. "This act aims to make this the rule, and no longer the exception in low-income communities across the [country]. Not only will this encourage more of our top college graduates to pursue a career in education, but it will give our education preparation programs an opportunity to grow and improve."

Davis' office said it was working on gathering additional sponsors and was also looking at the possibility of incorporating the program into other bills that are already wending their way through Congress, including possibly into the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

In a statement, the three organizations urged Congress to pass the bill. However, given recent levels of congressional discord, its future appears uncertain.

The three groups said they hoped that the bill would serve as an incentive for individuals who might otherwise bypass the profession because of the expenses related to completing the necessary degrees. 

They also said they hoped the bill, if passed, would help reduce principal turnover, a nettlesome problem in the field that continues to extract high costs from school districts and disrupt student learning. According to the groups, 25,000 principals leave their schools annually, and nearly 50 percent of new principals leave in their third year. School districts spend about $75,000 to prepare, hire, mentor, and provide other professional development opportunities for principals.

The numbers came from a report released last year by the School Leaders Network, which detailed the high financial and academic toll of principal churn, which especially affects urban school districts.

"The current soaring principal turnover rate leaves low-income districts in an unstable cycle that harms vulnerable students the most," the groups wrote in a statement.

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