the Education Committee heard testimony Feb. 1 about two proposals to address Nebraska’s teacher shortage.
Below LB1128presented by Bennington Sen. Wendy DeBoer, a full-time preschool, elementary or high school teacher who is a resident of Nebraska could receive up to $6,000 a year in student loan repayment assistance for five years.
DeBoer said his proposal would encourage students to enroll in teacher preparation programs and stay in Nebraska after graduation.
“I think this is an investment in our state to ensure that we have the highest quality education for our students,” she said.
Under LB945, sponsored by Senator Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, a similar program would provide qualified teachers with up to $5,000 a year in loan repayment assistance for five years.
To qualify for aid under Linehan’s proposal, a teacher must be certified and teach full-time in a public or private school. Applicants must also have completed a bachelor’s degree and a teacher education program at an accredited college or university.
Linehan said his proposal would help attract and retain young teachers, who have relatively low starting salaries.
“I think most teachers with student loans would be happy to get that kind of help,” she said.
Both proposals call on the Legislative Assembly to allocate $5 million per year for programs.
Sara Skretta testified in support of both bills on behalf of the Nebraska Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. She said student loan repayment terms for new teachers, whose starting salaries are around $40,000 a year, can be “crushing.”
“It will help our students entering the profession know that they have a way out of this financial burden,” Skretta said.
Tim Frey, dean of the College of Education at Doane University, also backed both proposals. He said the aid could help attract people to the profession who might not otherwise consider it.
“For many people considering post-secondary education,” Frey said, “financial aid is a strong motivating factor in choosing 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 could limit the number of teachers who are eligible for aid 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 people 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 homes, starting families or returning to school.
No one testified against either bill and the committee took no immediate action on them.