Democrats unveil loan forgiveness bill for teachers

Saying the career ladder will not do enough for teacher recruiting, legislative Democrats unveiled a loan forgiveness bill for rural teachers.

Toone and Jordan
Democratic Reps. Sally Toone of Gooding and Paulette Jordan of Plummer field questions about the loan forgiveness bill.

But the size and scope of the proposal, and its immediate prospects, are unclear.

The bill would allow teachers to receive up to $12,000 in loan forgiveness over four years. In order to qualify, teachers would have to work in high-poverty and low-performing rural districts.

It would be up to the State Department of Education to define these terms — and decide which schools are eligible for the program. Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, said about half of the state’s school districts could qualify.

Democrats had no cost estimates for the program. If the loan forgiveness bill passes, sponsors would follow up with a $3 million to $5 million appropriations bill, said House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise.

The Legislature’s six Senate Democrats and 11 House Democrats are co-sponsoring the bill. No Republicans have signed on.

“We’re working at it,” Toone said during a news conference Wednesday morning.

The proposal comes as the Legislature will decide whether to fund the third year of the career ladder, a five-year plan to boost teacher pay. Lawmakers have put $75 million into the plan since its passage in 2015. The 2017 installment carries a $62 million price tag, and is expected to be the costliest step in the five-year rollout.

Democrats say the pay raises are not sufficient to attract teachers into rural communities, especially when teachers can collect a pay raise by taking a job in neighboring states. This forces too many districts to hire non-certified “placeholder” staff, said Toone.

“That’s not fair to any of our students,” said Toone, a 37-year teacher.

Coming Thursday: Idaho Education News takes an in-depth look at the career ladder, and its effects across the state.