State Seeks Solution for Teacher Shortages: Will Student Loan Forgiveness Help Educators?

Various school districts in New Hampshire have been in competition to hire and retain teachers for several years. However, rural schools face greater challenges compared to others, as more lucrative teaching jobs in wealthier districts are just a town or two away.

In an effort to address this issue, lawmakers in the Senate have introduced a bill that would create a “rural educator incentive program.” This program would provide student loan repayment grants to teachers working in qualifying rural districts. The Senate Education Committee unanimously approved the bill, which is known as Senate Bill 217.

The bill would specifically apply to school districts with fewer than 20 students per square mile living within the district and also to districts that the Department of Health and Human Services has designated as rural. Currently, there are 104 school districts in the state that meet these criteria.

Under the proposed program, educators employed in these districts would be eligible to have “all or part” of their outstanding student loans repaid. The amount repaid would depend on whether the educator exceeds the cap. Over a span of four years, approved educators would receive loan repayments as follows: $1,500 in the first year, $2,500 in the second year, $3,500 in the third year, and $4,500 in the fourth year. The maximum total payout would be $12,000, but educators would need to work in the same school district for all four years to receive the full benefit.

Senator Ruth Ward, the chairwoman of the Senate Education Committee, acknowledged the urgency of the issue and expressed support for the bill. She noted that teachers are not receiving competitive salaries and something needs to be done to address this.

The proposed legislation would allocate $1 million in the first year and $2 million in the second year after its passage. It would then be up to future lawmakers to ensure continued funding for the program.

The Senate is expected to vote on the bill later this year, following the 4-0 recommendation from the committee. If approved, it will move on to the Senate Finance Committee.

The president of the National Education Association of New Hampshire, Megan Tuttle, praised the bill as a way to remove barriers for educators entering the profession. She emphasized the importance of boosting the recruitment of future public school educators.

The proposal for the bill originated from the New Hampshire Teacher Shortages and Recruitment Committee, a joint panel of representatives and senators. The committee has been meeting for several years to address the issue of educator shortages in the state.

According to NEA-NH, educator shortages in New Hampshire have been a longstanding problem, which was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic-related learning loss and retirements of teachers have created significant gaps in staffing. This has led some teachers to leave their districts for higher-paying jobs elsewhere, further disadvantaging less wealthy districts.

The average median entry salary for teachers with a bachelor’s degree in New Hampshire is just under $40,000. In less wealthy districts, this salary can be as low as $30,000. The high cost of living in New Hampshire, which is approximately $56,727 per year, further compounds the financial challenges faced by teachers.

Incentivizing teaching jobs in struggling school districts has become a popular approach in many states. In fact, 25 states and the District of Columbia have implemented statewide loan repayment programs to encourage teachers to work in underserved districts, according to a 2022 report from the Education Commission of the States.

Former Senator Jay Kahn, who chaired the teacher shortage committee, highlighted the persistent shortages of science and mathematics teachers in the state. He noted that lower-paid school districts face the greatest challenges in recruiting teachers and also tend to have lower student performance.

While some school districts, like Keene, have implemented their own student loan repayment programs, not all districts can afford this approach. Kahn emphasized the need for a statewide model that would effectively incentivize teachers to work in needier districts. Increasing teacher recruitment in these districts could potentially improve student performance.

Kahn stated, “We do need a replacement measure for economically disadvantaged school districts. Free and reduced lunch just is not going to make it.”