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Teacher Shortage Is Target of Bill in Congress from Reps. Hanna, Takano

A new bipartisan bill in Congress is designed to address the national teacher shortage—assuming you think that there is one—by making it easier for educators to get forgiveness from higher education loans.

The bill from House Reps. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., and Mark Takano, D-Calif., would allow teachers to apply their classroom service time to two federal loan-forgiveness programs simultaneously, making it easier for them to get out from under their college loan debts.

The Stafford Student Loan Forgiveness and Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs are the two federal ones available for teachers. The former provides debt relief after five years in the classroom, and the latter discharges any remaining debt after 10 years of public service. But right now teachers can't participate in both at the same time. 

According to a statement released by the two members of Congress, teachers seeking a loan discharge through the Public Service program have to serve an additional 10 years in classrooms if they previously qualified for the Stafford program, making it a 15-year proposition for teachers to participate in both. The proposed bill would allow teachers to apply their time teaching to both programs concurrently. 

"Under current law, teacher loan forgiveness programs are not well-aligned and as a result create duplicitous and conflicting standards that make it challenging for teachers to receive repayment assistance," Hanna said in the statement. "The commonsense fix this bill makes to existing debt relief programs will ensure that they work better for young, talented teachers eager to enter the workforce and serve in high-need communities throughout our country, like in Utica and Binghamton, New York."

My colleague Stephen Sawchuk wrote last year that the idea there's a teacher shortage can be misleading, since by 2018 statistics indicate there could be more teachers than ever before, and that some subjects likely have a glut of teachers (English and early childhood), while others are coming up short (science and math). Still, enrollment in teacher preparation programs has dipped in recent years, and recent nationwide statistics do suggest the share of teachers per district declining. 

The bill, introduced last week, would amend the Higher Education Act. 


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