In an effort to find candidates for critical teacher vacancies in small school districts in North Dakota, a bill was passed in the state Senate.

Senate Bill 2243 creates a student loan reimbursement program for teachers to work in a North Dakota school district or nonpublic school with fewer than 1,000 students. The schools chosen by North Dakota Department of Public Instruction have a critical vacancy in a grade level. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Donald Schaible, R-Mott.

The program will reimburse up to $4,500 per teacher in each of the first two years and up to $6,500 in the third year, with a maximum $25,000 when applying for additional positions. There are already similar programs in place for medical professionals.

The teacher shortage in smaller school districts has been a serious issue in the state. While North Dakota is producing enough teachers, most opt to go to larger school districts for more pay. As a result, many smaller districts are forced to hire retired teachers or even non-teachers with subject expertise to take on critical subjects.

This program will hopefully encourage qualified candidates to come to an area with a teacher shortage, while also helping them pay off their student loan debt. In order to qualify, a teacher must commit to working in the school for a minimum of three years. North Dakota has an average student loan debt of $16,610 among graduates, 25th in the country. The national average is around $28,000.

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Retaining teachers is a big problem in many states. Given the rising cost of tuition, more college students, including teaching majors, are required to take out education loans. Teaching salaries are well-known for being low, and many struggle to pay back their student loans while working in the field.

While there is Republican support for the bill, some members of the GOP are worried about funding the program, especially with the state’s current budget woes.

Rep Mark S. Owens, R-Grand Forks, a co-sponsor of the bill, admitted that this legislation is not an answer to all of the teaching issues, but it is “a step in the right direction.”

Budgeting is not just an issue in North Dakota. Republicans across the country and in Washington D.C. voice their dissent over spending on many education programs. One such program, the Pell Grant program, is a prime example. The Pell Grant program helps low income students attend college without the burden of student loans. Annually, it is the target of GOP attempts to cut the budget, and it is often the focal point of bipartisan debate. This is just another example of an issue that is part of a much larger problem: college affordability and student loans.

Image Copyright Jimmy Emerson, DVM. (Edited)