Bill would help pay teachers’ student loans to ease shortages

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Capital News Service
LANSING — To fight an ongoing teacher shortage, a Michigan legislator wants to track the problem and help new teachers pay down their student loans.
Rep. Robert Kosowski, D-Westland, has introduced a bill that would offer teachers working in shortage areas up to $1,000 a year for five years to repay qualified educational loans.
The bill, pending in the House Education Reform Committee, would also require the superintendent of public instruction to track shortages across the state and report regularly to legislators.

“I don’t think this bill can solve the teacher shortage, but I’m sure it’s going to help people to get re-energized,” Kosowski said, adding that the incentive might encourage more teachers to apply for jobs in areas with shortages.
For the current school year, the state identified five major categories of teacher shortages: special education, industrial technology, mathematics, world languages and occupational education.
Education advocates say many factors contribute to teacher shortages.
“It’s not a good time to be a teacher and hasn’t been for quite a while,” said Steven Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association, adding that enrollments in state teacher preparatory programs is down by nearly half in recent years. The association is the state’s largest union of teachers and other school personnel.
Teaching has become less appealing for several reasons, Cook said, including increasing class sizes.
“The class size is just exploding and hurts all over the state,” Cook said. “Teachers have to take on more kids.”
Cook said teachers’ salary and benefits have also been lagging, with teachers now paying a larger share of their health insurance. Brian Whiston, state superintendent, agreed that pay is an issue.
“We do want our ‘best and brightest’ to go into teaching,” Whiston said. “But the problem is, why would our ‘best and brightest’ go into teaching making $28,000 a year, while other students are getting jobs and making $50,000 or more right out the college? We’ve got to do something about starting pay for teachers.”
Solving the teacher shortage is one goal in the Michigan Department of Education’s plan to make Michigan a top-10 education state over the next decade. The plan calls for “designing interventions to attract quality educators, evaluating shortages in the educator workforce and identifying areas where supports are needed.”
“In order to attract and retain educators in high needs schools, the plan includes a variety of means, such as salary supports and class size reduction,” said Bill DiSessa, a communications specialist for the Education Department. “It also identifies a need for the state to engage in research and evaluation on how to identify shortages within individual schools.”
DiSessa said the state needs to continue identifying factors that discourage people from going into or staying in teaching, such as pressure from high-stakes testing, pay and benefits and state funding for schools.
House Bill 4142:

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