Rural towns typically face a tough time luring qualified teachers to teach at their schools – particularly in Idaho. With one out of every five rural students dropping out of high school, something needs to be done.
Rep. Paulette Jordan and Rep. Sally Toone of Idaho are hoping to do just that, recently proposing a bill that would forgive the student loans of teachers who work in rural areas within the state after four years. Under the proposal, which has the full backing from Democrats, teachers would see up to $12,000 of their student loans forgiven after serving a rural school for more than four years.
“Many school districts in Legislative District 26 struggle to find qualified teachers to fill their ranks,” Rep. Toone said in a press release announcing the proposal. The representatives haven’t introduced their legislation, nor did they disclose how much forgiving the debt would cost the state or which school districts would be allowed to take part in the program.
Though Idaho’s program would be the first for our nation on the state level, the federal government has been using loan forgiveness for years to try to bring teachers to rural communities. It’s main one is the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, which aims to get teachers to serve in low-income areas. The government will forgive up to $17,500 of the federal student loans. Perkins Loan borrowers who teach in schools on the Teacher Cancellation Low Income Directory may also have their Perkin Loans canceled.
Though Idaho isn’t alone in needing teachers to fill the vacant slots, its rural towns are up against many obstacles, such as the below average salary a teacher can expect to earn. According to LocalNews8.com, the starting salary for an Idaho teacher is slightly more than $30,000 in the state. More wealthy Idaho districts pay more, but nowhere near as much as its neighbor Wyoming, which pays new teachers $45,000 to $55,000 a year.
For Idaho lawmakers, the hope is that helping teachers out with their debt will influence them to stay and provide a better education to the rural students. According to the representatives, about half of rural students go to college, considerably lower than the state average of 59 percent. In 2014, just 20 percent of students in rural towns took advanced placement courses, underscoring the need for more qualified teachers that can spark an interest in learning.
Author: Donna Fuscaldo
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