NE Leg: Bills aim to give teachers student loan relief

LB 1128, LB 945, and LP 1169 all create their versions of loan forgiveness or repayment programs for new Nebraska teachers.
Published: Feb. 1, 2022 at 8:48 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 3, 2022 at 3:34 PM CST
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LINCOLN, Neb. (KOLN) - It’s no secret over the past few years teachers have acted as frontline workers with long hours, difficult conditions, and helping anywhere they can.

Consequently, the strain is taking its toll on things like recruitment and retention.

Tuesday a trio of bills discussed in the legislature’s Education Committee are hoping to help solve some of those problems.

According to the National Educators Association, about half of all educators took out a loan to pay for school, and about half of those people still owe an average of $58,000.

It’s also estimated nationally over the next few years, enrollment in higher education for teachers will drop 35% to 40%, educators say incentives are key to keeping teachers in Nebraska.

“With prospective teachers, educators college is getting more and more expensive and you are entering a field that’s not starting out paying a lot of money that’s for sure,” said Kyle McGowen with the Nebraska State Education Association. “The competition for other professions just are looking more attractive.”

LB 1128, LB 945, and LP 1169 all create their versions of loan forgiveness or repayment programs for new Nebraska teachers. Each would essentially give eligible teachers $5,000 to $6,000 a year to go towards paying back student loans.

“At Doane, some real-life examples education majors who graduated in the last three classes 2019, 2020, and 2021 from our undergraduate degree program finished on average with an outstanding loan balance of $18,408,” said Dr. Tim Frey with Doane University.

To qualify teachers would have to go through an application process, be a full-time employee which is defined as at least four hours a day, and have the proper certifications in the state.

“Schools across the state have been struggling for several years not to fill openings for full-time and substitute teachers,” said Carri Collins the Elementary Principal Supervisor for Omaha Public Schools. “This is not a rural or urban issue, this issue spans our state and the nation.”

Teacher retirements hit record highs during the pandemic and while these bills right now only target new teachers, the senators behind them say it’s likely retention incentives will be added before they’re potentially voted out of committee.

“We talk a lot about young educators but there are educators over the age of 61 that are in debt and a third of those owe over $45,000,” said Rachel Gibson the Director of Education Policy for the League of Women Voters of Nebraska.

All three bills remain in the Education Committee and would need to be voted out before they would be on the full unicameral floor for debate.

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