House and Senate Democrats, led by new Rep. Sally Toone, D-Gooding, a retired teacher, and Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, are proposing legislation to grant student loan forgiveness to rural teachers to help alleviate a “critical” teacher shortage at low-performing rural Idaho schools. Toone, a retired teacher, said, “I am excited as a new legislator and as an educator” to make the proposal.
Co-sponsored by every House and Senate Democrat, the proposed bill hasn’t yet been brought to a committee. Toone said she’s hoping the measure will be granted a hearing, so its backers can make their case.
The measure would grant up to $3,000 a year in student loan forgiveness for up to four years for teachers who work in eligible schools, identified as schools with “rural isolation,” economic disadvantage, and low student achievement. House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding, D-Boise, said, “In a perfect world,” JFAC would allocate $3 million to $5 million to the new loan forgiveness program. But no amount is identified in the bill; it would be up to JFAC to provide funding, and available funds would be distributed with priority going to the most-impacted schools.
Jordan said, “Right now we’re over our budget. If we are going to do right by the people of Idaho, we should support our students, support our teachers.”
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, when asked if the Democrats’ bill would have a chance of getting a hearing, said, “I’d have to know more details – this is the first I’ve heard of it.”