Bush Plans to
Boost Teacher Loan Relief
by Ben Feller, The Associated Press and Newsday, January
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President Bush wants to more than triple the aid offered to
college graduates who agree to teach math, science and special
education classes in poor schools, enough for many to wipe out
their federal student loans.
Bush's coming budget proposal would forgive up to $17,500 in
debt for teachers who enter fields known for chronic teacher
shortages and fast turnover.
Prospective teachers in those areas sometimes look for work
outside public schools because of many school systems'
relatively low pay.
"Frankly, it's Economics 101," Deputy Education Secretary
William Hansen said Tuesday.
"The private sector will search out folks with math and
science degrees in a very aggressive way, and that is the
biggest challenge we have."
A math teacher's salary, for example, falls more than $15,000
below that of a statistician or an engineer, according to
department figures. Intense workplace pressures make special
education courses particularly hard to fill as specialists opt
for general education or other careers.
Current law allows teachers in poor areas to have $5,000 in
loans erased if they work for five consecutive years.
The Bush proposal maintains the five-year work requirement but
limits the increased benefits to those in math, science and
special education. The administration settled on the $17,500
figure because that's the average amount of federal debt owed
by today's graduates, Hansen said.
The proposal applies only to federal loans.
Schools across America face fundamental problems of quantity
and quality in teaching. Teacher retirements and student
enrollments combined will produce an estimated shortfall of 2
million educators over 10 years, and the Bush education
program requires high-quality teachers of core subjects by
The department estimates the existing loan program will help
38,000 students, who will begin their college education next
year. Of those, 7,000 are expected to become math, science or
special education teachers and could be eligible for the
Bush's loan-forgiveness plan resurrects an idea that he and
lawmakers have championed before. The House approved a broader
version last fall, proposed by former Rep. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.,
but it died in the Senate.
Graham, now in the Senate, said he expects Bush and Congress
to embrace a more expansive offer. Graham's version would
extend the increased loan forgiveness to teachers of any
subject in traditionally poor schools and to special education
teachers in any school.
Teachers would have to maintain their certification to remain
"What the taxpayers need to understand is you're not giving
people money," Graham said. "People are having their loans
forgiven by having to work five years."
Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, the top Democrat on the
Senate's education committee, said: "The good news is
President Bush recognizes that there is a national crisis when
it comes to our teacher shortage, especially in the most
challenged schools. ... However, as we saw with similar
Republican proposals last year, if there is no real money
behind the increase in teacher loan forgiveness, it's just
another empty promise to the nation's schools, teachers, and
Expanding loan help for teachers, particularly those serving
poor areas, would be a welcome recruitment tool, said Kim
Anderson, a lobbyist for the National Education Association. A
comprehensive package, including bigger tax deductions for
teachers and more aid for professional development, is what
the union wants from federal leaders.
Under the Bush plan, current teachers, not just new ones,
would be eligible provided that they meet the criteria,
Education Department spokeswoman Jane Glickman said. To be
eligible, teachers must have taken out at least some of their
loans after Oct. 1, 1998.
The program is expected to cost $70 million a year.