Do Teachers Need A New Repayment Program?

By Katy Hopkins, Communications Staff 

Recruiting and maintaining a strong workforce of teachers is critical to the nation’s development, but with low salaries and high dropout rates from the profession, it’s a tricky task—particularly in low-income areas. 

More than two-thirds of teachers borrow for their own education, graduating with an average of $20,000 in debt from their bachelor’s degree and $50,000 among those who earned their master’s, too, according to “How Student Loan Assistance Fails Teachers,” a new report from Third Way. (Those master’s degree holders are, on average, $8,000 more in debt than their MBA counterparts, the report adds). Those graduates start out earning an average of $40,000 a year, according to the report, and close to half won’t last in the profession five years. 

While the federal government does provide incentives for students to enter and remain in the teaching profession, the current menu of options can be confusing and inapplicable, Third Way’s report argues—and that’s only reserved for teachers who actually know the federal government offers assistance. According to a National Center for Education Statistics report cited by Third Way, “only 31.7 percent of incoming and current teachers were even aware of the loan assistance programs available specifically for teachers.”

In other cases, federal grants may prove illusive. Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) grants, funding Congress authorized in 2007, initially offer $4,000-$16,000 to students with a 3.25 GPA or higher who commit to “teach a high-needs subject area in a low-income school for a minimum of four years,” the report notes. But for those that do not meet all the requirements – they don't end up teaching in a high-need field, say, or they fail to serve as a full-time teacher for a total of at least four academic years within eight years of graduating, the grants are switched to direct unsubsidized loans. Recently, as many as 75 percent of TEACH grant recipients had their funds converted to loans, according to the report’s analysis of a Department of Education budget request.

It’s not just an issue felt by individual teachers. In July, the Obama administration highlighted the need for higher-caliber teachers in typically understaffed districts.

“As a nation, we’ve had far too few incentives, and, frankly, lots of disincentives for the hardest-working and the most-committed teachers and principals to go to the communities who need the most help, and we have to get together and reverse that,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, as reported by The Washington Post

According to Third Way, teachers should be given a single, streamlined approach to student loan repayments, in a monthly check they could put towards their own repayments. By redirecting the $350 million in federal funding that currently goes to student loan assistance, coupled with “$1 billion of federal money spent each year on ineffective teacher professional development,” Third Way estimates 260,000 could receive the full average monthly amount teachers owe: $429.

“[I]nstead of relying on a poorly advertised, convoluted patchwork, the message would be clear – enter the classroom, and we’ll make your loan payment,” the report states.


Publication Date: 9/22/2014

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