Student loan relief for teachers? Bill would forgive debt to address teacher shortage

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Attention teachers – even more student loan forgiveness could be on the way, thanks to a new bill.

Under a bill co-authored by Sen. Ben Ray Luján and Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, the federal government will make monthly student loan payments for teachers who are working in early education programs and at high-need public schools. After five years, all of their student loans will be forgiven.

“This will be another tool to ensure that we keep teachers in the classroom we can retain them and attract them to beautiful places like New Mexico,” Sen. Luján said.

There is still a teacher shortage in New Mexico. The largest school district, Albuquerque Public Schools, has more than 600 openings. Since the pandemic, many teachers are leaving the profession for higher-paying jobs.

This new legislation is looking to change that.

“This legislation came from hearing from young teachers directly. The saddle they are often bearing is high student loan debt and a lot of educators will look into other fields to see what they can do to address that debt,” Luján said.

According to a study by the Learning Policy Institute, most teachers have between $20,000 and $50,000 in student loan debt. On average, educators make about 24% less than other jobs, right out of college.

“Looking at the statistics and looking at the number of teachers out there that are working in our schools, a high percentage still hold high student loans. The idea here is how can we incentivize teachers to stay in our communities longer, and on the other side, reward them for that work,” Luján said.

Local teachers unions are voicing their support for this bill as well

“I always look at it through the lens of are we recruiting new teachers? Will this get people into our profession? And I think this will remove additional barriers and get teachers into the classroom and get our education programs back to where it needs to be, which is at capacity,” AFT Union President Whitney Holland said.

With the promise of loan forgiveness, they are hoping to meet that capacity sooner and keep educators in the classroom.

“I think this equals the playing field a little bit for our educators,” Holland added.

There are some student loan forgiveness programs already in place. The new Loan Forgiveness for Educators Act of 2022 isn’t replacing those programs, instead, it will expand them so more teachers can apply to get their loans forgiven.