Retention program for Nebraska teaching graduates considered

A new loan program would require graduates of the state’s teacher education programs to teach in Nebraska public schools under a bill heard Jan. 30 by the Education Committee.

Sen. Lynne Walz
Sen. Lynne Walz

Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, sponsor of LB519, said a 2022 state Department of Education survey found that Nebraska school districts have 768 unfilled positions this school year, in many cases because there are no applicants.

She said the proposed loan program and other changes in the bill would remove financial barriers that keep otherwise qualified people from becoming teachers and staying in the profession.

“We have many smart, skilled and prepared students in the state of Nebraska who want to be a part of the solution,” Walz said. “We just need to give them the tools to succeed.”

Under LB519, eligible students could apply annually for a loan of no more than $8,500. If the borrower meets the bill’s requirements, the loans would be forgiven in four years, or two if the borrower teaches in a rural school district or a school with a certain percentage of students in poverty.

Eligible students would:
• agree to complete a teacher education program at an accredited, not-for-profit college or university in Nebraska;
• enroll in the program before the start of the next academic semester following an application for a loan under the act;
• maintain status as a full-time student during the student teaching semester in which a loan is requested; and
• commit to teach in an approved or accredited public school in Nebraska upon completion of the teacher education program and become certified to teach.

Walz said she would introduce an amendment under which teaching graduates who commit to work at Nebraska private schools also would qualify for the program.

LB519 also would eliminate fees for certain teaching certificates — including those for entry-level teachers — and increase the amount of loan assistance and loan forgiveness available under the Attracting Excellence to Teaching Program.

Additionally, the bill would require the state Department of Education to administer a program to provide retention payments to public and private elementary and secondary school teachers and staff, except administrators.

Tim Royers testified in support of LB519 on behalf of the Nebraska State Education Association. He said eliminating the $75 certification fee could be a “difference maker” for teachers who are in financial need.

Colby Coash testified in support of the bill on behalf of the Nebraska Association of School Boards, the Nebraska Council of School Administrators and two groups representing Nebraska school districts.

He said the proposed school employee retention program recognizes that school districts also are struggling to hire and retain paraeducators, food service workers, bus drivers, custodians and other staff.

Sara Skretta testified in support of LB519 on behalf of the Nebraska Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. Student teachers generally are unpaid but still are required to pay for their tuition, fees and living expenses while working full time in the classroom, she said.

“Being a student teacher is really more than a full-time job,” Skretta said, “and they’re doing it for free.”

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

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