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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Bills to alleviate teacher shortage

    PHOENIX – Education majors could soon be reimbursed for their student loans if they help relieve the statewide teacher shortage by working in school districts with a staffing crunch.

    Two House bills are aimed at establishing a fund that would provide money for student loans that would not have to be paid back if the student worked in a district for a certain number of years.

    The UA College of Education is supporting the measure because it provides a financial incentive for an under-rewarded career, said Ronald Marx, College of Education dean.

    “”They’re really helpful,”” Marx said about the bills. “”They will make a difference.””

    House Bill 2206 would appropriate $3.5 million toward the Teacher Shortage Student Loan Program, under which up to 300 resident students from Arizona universities or community colleges could be reimbursed for teaching math, science or special education in shortage areas anywhere in the state. HB 2331 limits the program to American Indian reservations but is similar to the first measure.

    Both bills passed the House Higher Education Committee last week and are awaiting action by the Appropriations Committee.

    “”I was just tired of seeing classrooms without teachers,”” said Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, the sponsor of HB 2206 and a former high school teacher. “”I was tired of seeing huge class sizes and schools not able to find math, science and special-ed teachers and just felt a way to incentivize (sic) this.””

    HB 2331 focuses on Indian reservations, because schools in those areas suffer especially hard from teacher shortages, said Rep. Albert Tom, D-Chambers, the bill’s sponsor.

    “”It’s an attempt to let the state know that there’s a need out there for rural teachers,”” Tom said. “”It’s something that needs to be on the state’s radar screen.””

    Tom said he is skeptical Schapira’s bill will pass because it is asking for too much money. Tom’s bill does not yet have a set dollar amount to contribute to the fund.

    Schapira said he wants both bills to pass, but if that doesn’t happen he would like to add Tom’s bill as an amendment to his measure.

    The loan program, which would be established for the 2008-09 academic year, would award loans to education students to pay for tuition and fees. If the student started a teaching job in a shortage area within one year of graduation, he or she would not have to pay back one year of loan support per year of service at the school.

    The measure could help retain some of the education majors who plan to leave the state after graduation, said Purvi Shah, an elementary education senior and former president of the UA Future Teachers Club.

    Shah said she and most of her friends in the major want to leave Arizona for their first jobs because of lower-than-average salaries and the quality of the state’s education system, among other reasons.

    While she thinks the bills won’t eliminate the shortage, they could give some students the opportunity to defray their loan debt while getting their feet wet in teaching.

    “”I have student loans,”” she said. “”This could be a reason why I might stay.””

    Because Arizona education students tend to leave the state for their first jobs, some school districts are forced to recruit teachers from other states.

    Holbrook Unified School District replaces 20 to 30 teachers each year, said Mary Koury, the district’s superintendent. Because Arizona universities don’t yield enough applicants, district officials find them in other states, including Oregon, North and South Dakota and Utah.

    To deal with the shortage, the district has offered its existing teachers pay raises and monetary incentives, Koury said, but she added that she is fighting an uphill battle: This year, two positions for special-education teachers in HUSD remained vacant.

    “”It’s getting worse,”” she said. “”I think that fewer and fewer people are going into special education, math and science. I definitely think (the measure) would help.””

    Under the bills, the Arizona Board of Regents would administer the money and give out the loans.

    The board’s officials have not yet taken a position on the bills but hope to work with lawmakers to flesh out the details.

    “”We are excited to see it’s a priority in the Legislature,”” said Christine Thompson, assistant director for government affairs for the board of regents.

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