Special ed teacher loan forgiveness considered

The Education Committee considered a measure Feb. 12 that would provide forgivable loans to certain college students in exchange for their commitment to teach in Nebraska after obtaining certification with a special education teaching endorsement.

Sen. George Dungan
Sen. George Dungan

LB964, introduced by Lincoln Sen. George Dungan, would adopt the Special Education Teacher Forgivable Loan Program Act, which the state Department of Education would administer. University of Nebraska or Nebraska State College System students would be eligible for the program, with loans available for up to 25 students annually from each institution.

Loans could be used only to pay for any remaining tuition after applying all awarded federal and state financial aid grants and scholarships. Students who meet the eligibility criteria would be required to teach special education at a Nebraska elementary or secondary school within one year of graduation. Participants would need to remain employed for the equivalent number of years of loans taken, up to a maximum of five years.

LB964 also would amend the Career Scholarship Act to allow scholarship funds to be used for University of Nebraska students participating in the Special Education Teacher Forgivable Loan Program.

Dungan said the state currently has a shortage of special education teachers and a shortage of students pursuing an endorsement. Nebraska needs to develop pathways to encourage students to study special education, he said, which is the aim of LB964.

In addition, Dungan said, the program would cost approximately $500,000 or less annually to administer in fiscal year 2024-25 and FY2025-26, which includes $144,000 to $250,000 in maximum total loan amounts each year plus operating costs.

“For a relatively small fiscal impact, we can make a big difference in education,” he said.

Megan Pitrat, a special education teacher, testified in support of the measure on behalf of the Nebraska State Education Association. Since the beginning of February, the department has posted nearly 50 special education job openings on its website, she said, and there simply are not enough graduates to fill those vacancies.

“We are reaching a crisis,” Pitrat said.

Spencer Head spoke in support of LB964, representing the Omaha Public Schools Board of Education. The bill would address the need for “creative and innovative” policies to recruit more special education teachers at both state and district levels, he said.

Also testifying in favor was Edison McDonald, speaking on behalf of the Arc of Nebraska. He stressed the importance of addressing special education shortages in rural schools.

“You need to balance urban and rural needs,” McDonald said. “Omaha makes the news, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not seeing that same special education crisis throughout small schools throughout the state.”

No one testified in opposition to LB964 and the committee took no immediate action on it.

Bookmark and Share