Student loan repayment for teachers proposed

The Education Committee heard testimony Feb. 1 on two proposals intended to address Nebraska’s teacher shortage.

Sen. Wendy DeBoer
Sen. Wendy DeBoer

Under LB1128, introduced by Bennington Sen. Wendy DeBoer, a full-time preschool, primary or secondary school teacher who is a Nebraska resident could receive up to $6,000 per year in student loan repayment assistance for five years.

DeBoer said her proposal would encourage students to enroll in teacher preparation programs and stay in Nebraska when they graduate.

“I think that this is an investment in our state to ensure that we have the best quality education for our students,” she said.

Under LB945, sponsored by Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, a similar program would provide qualifying teachers up to $5,000 per year in loan repayment assistance for five years.

Sen. Lou Ann Linehan
Sen. Lou Ann Linehan

To qualify for assistance under Linehan’s proposal, a teacher must be certified and teaching full time at a public or private school. Applicants also must have completed a bachelor’s degree and a teacher education program at an approved college or university.

Linehan said her proposal would help attract and retain young teachers, who have relatively low starting pay.

“I think that most teachers with student loans would be thrilled to receive this type of assistance,” she said.

Both proposals call for the Legislature to appropriate $5 million per year to the programs.

Sara Skretta testified in support of both bills on behalf of the Nebraska Association of Colleges of Teacher Education. She said student loan repayment terms for new teachers, whose starting salary is around $40,000 per year, can be “overwhelming.”

“This will help our students coming into the profession know that they have a pathway out of that financial burden,” Skretta said.

Also in support of both proposals was Tim Frey, dean of Doane University’s College of Education. He said the assistance could help attract people to the profession who otherwise might not consider it.

“For many individuals considering postsecondary education,” Frey said, “financial assistance is a significant motivator in selecting a college major or career path.”

Rachel Gibson of the League of Women Voters of Nebraska also testified in support of both bills. She suggested, however, that LB945 might limit the number of teachers who qualify for assistance by requiring a bachelor’s degree.

Gibson said nearly half of all teachers take out loans to pay for their education and about half of those individuals still owe an average of $58,000. Student loan debt can affect teachers’ mental, emotional and physical well-being, she said, and can prevent young teachers from buying a house, starting a family or returning to school.

No one testified in opposition to either bill and the committee took no immediate action on them.

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