The Horry County Schools school district in South Carolina is trying to recruit and retain teachers by paying a portion of teachers’ student loan debt if they agree to stay in the district for five years.
According to a report in Myrtle Beach Online, the idea, which was discussed at Monday’s human resources committee meeting, is to pay $5,000 towards new and existing teachers’ student loans to incentivize them to stay in the district.
Ray Winters, the Horry County School Board member who proposed the idea, told the Myrtle Beach Online that the program is tax smart too since the money can be transferred to the teachers tax-free.
The idea comes at a time when South Carolina is struggling with teacher retention problems. According to the Center for Educator Recruitment, Retention and Advancement, the number of people who graduated with a degree in education stood at 1,898 in the 2016-2017 school year compared to 2,219 in the 2014-2015 school year. The reasons for the decline vary, but the low wages teachers receive and the high cost of a college education are two leading causes. Horry County is the third largest school district in the state.
South Carolina has the tenth highest amount of student loan debt per borrower in the nation, with the average borrower having over $30,000. Many teachers in South Carolina are graduating with high debt but start off making only around $32,000. This means the average teacher will be making monthly payments of around $345, while only making around $1,829 after taxes. This high debt-to-income ratio makes repayment very difficult, so it isn’t surprising that many are looking to find higher paying jobs elsewhere.
Horry County School district isn’t the first to consider paying down a portion of teachers’ student loan debt, and it likely won’t be the last. Towns across the country, particularly rural ones and those that aren’t in close proximity to a city, are trying all sorts of ways to recruit and retain good teachers.
Take North Dakota for one example. According to the Valley News, the state has a shortage of teachers in 14 subjects and, as a result, lawmakers are looking into legislation to provide teachers with breaks on their federal student loans. One of the bills would help all North Dakota teachers with student loan debt, while the other is geared toward new teachers who accept jobs in rural schools. In the latter case, the teachers get as much as $25,000 in student loan forgiveness over the course of three years.
There is also federal teacher student loan forgiveness, in which the government forgives the student debt of teachers who work in underserved neighborhoods around the country for a five years. Federal student loan forgiveness programs are notoriously difficult to qualify for, however, and come with many stipulations.
Student loan debt is crippling millions of people, and cash strapped teachers aren’t an exception. It is refreshing to see that some of our country’s leaders are trying to make a difference.
Author: Donna Fuscaldo
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