States Consider, Ramp Up Loan Forgiveness for Rural Teachers
Several states are considering or enacting policies to forgive loans for teachers who work in rural schools, in an attempt to mitigate a constant teacher shortage in those areas.
Nearly 33 percent of schools in the nation are in rural areas, and these schools often struggle to recruit and retain teachers. For years, rural school districts have tried to offer incentives to lure teachers to hard-to-fill positions, including offering educator housing or stipends. Here's what several states are now proposing in an attempt to attract educators to rural districts:
- In North Carolina, a bill proposed last week would use profits from the state's lottery to help teachers pay back student loans, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. Teachers would receive between $5,000 and $10,000 through the program, with rural and low-income areas receiving the highest payment amounts. All teachers would have to commit to teaching in public schools for at least four years. Nearly 50 percent of students in North Carolina attend rural schools, and those schools serve a high percentage of minority students and English-language learners.
- In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker recently signed a bill that forgives 25 percent of higher education loans for teachers who work in rural school districts. Wisconsin's rural school districts have seen an increase in child poverty and a decrease in enrollment in recent years. At the same time, these districts have seen the greatest increase in costs per pupil, according to a report released earlier this year. Some rural schools in the state have been forced to close, while others are sharing teachers and increasing distance learning opportunities to offer elective and required courses.
- In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley recently proposed forgiving up to $30,000 in student loans for teachers who work in districts with high turnover rates. In 2014, the state's supreme court ruled in favor of more than two-dozen rural school districts that accused South Carolina officials of failing to provide an adequate education for rural students. The court directed legislators to create a plan to improve rural school districts. Since that ruling, lawmakers have proposed various solutions, such as raising teacher salaries and providing stipends to boost teacher-retention rates.
Loan forgiveness has also recently been taken up on the national level. A bipartisan bill proposed in April by House Reps. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., and Mark Takano, D-Calif., would allow teachers to apply their years in the classroom to two federal loan-forgiveness programs at the same time. That would help teachers whittle down their debt faster than is currently possible under the two programs.
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