Senate committee unanimously recommends teacher recruitment program for rural and underserved schools

On Monday, November 27, the NH Senate Education Committee unanimously recommended the passage of Senate Bill (SB) 217, which would create a loan forgiveness program for teachers who work in rural and underserved areas. The bill was introduced earlier in 2023 as a package of recruitment and retention strategies identified by a study committee of lawmakers in 2022. 

Here are key things to know about SB 217:

  • The program would provide loan forgiveness for any eligible teacher currently working in a rural or underserved area.
    • Any teacher who has qualifying outstanding student loan debt would be eligible, regardless of years of service.
  • Eligible K-12 schools would include those in rural areas and/or those who work in high-poverty schools, as determined by the NH Department of Education.
  • Loan forgiveness awards would be based on years of service within the eligible school.
    • In the first year: $1,500
    • In the second year: $2,500
    • In the third year: $3,500
    • In the fourth year: $4,500
    • An eligible educator could only receive a maximum of $12,000 over four years.
  • Loan forgiveness awards would only be offered based on the availability of funding for the program, meaning some qualified applicants may not receive loan forgiveness awards if funding has been exhausted.

As of spring 2023, 26 other states offer some form of loan forgiveness for teachers, including Maine, Vermont, and Connecticut. Read more about state-based loan forgiveness or cancellation programs here.

In addition to SB 217, lawmakers passed another teacher recruitment bill, Senate Bill (SB) 140, as part of the 2024-2025 statewide budget. SB 140 would provide stipends for eligible teacher candidates in student teaching programs, with the goal of reducing financial barriers to completing teacher prep programs. Currently, student teachers must work in a school full-time for at least a semester, and in some programs, a full year, as part of their educator preparation program. Usually, the student teaching program is unpaid, and student teachers often find it difficult to work additional jobs. The stipends created by SB 140 would be available to eligible students who meet specific financial criteria. 

About teacher shortages in New Hampshire

A six-member legislative committee of lawmakers and the New Hampshire Department of Education (NHED) met in 2022. They found that schools around the state were struggling to fill teacher and support staff positions. The committee issued four recommendations, including incentive grants and funding for the NHED to better support research needs around the issue.

New Hampshire schools are facing severe workforce shortages. Research from Reaching Higher NH and other organizations found that lower wages and challenging school climates have contributed to the shortages. New Hampshire’s teacher salaries are lower than the national average and about $24,000 less than neighboring Massachusetts, making recruitment and retention challenging for many school districts. Teachers also make about 19% less than their non-teaching peers with college degrees, compounding already difficult hiring challenges for some districts.

The main strategies that the Committee considered to address these challenges were through incentive programs that would allow districts to come up with solutions such as increasing the minimum starting salary for teachers, considering bonuses, or implementing other locally-developed programs.

Next Steps

Senate Bill 217 now heads to the full Senate floor for a vote in early January. If passed, the bill will go to the House, which will have a public hearing, committee vote, and floor vote. The start date for the program would be in 2024 if signed into law. 

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