Bills would forgive part of student loans

Posted: Wednesday, January 17, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Legislators are looking at two bills that would forgive at least part of Alaskans' student loans.

One would forgive half the Alaska Student Loan bills for people who teach in the state for five years. The other would forgive half of the loan for anyone who simply works in the state five years after graduating.

House Bill 37 by Rep. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, is aimed strictly at teachers. They'd get 10 percent forgiven of their loan for every year they each in Alaska, up to five years.

Stevens told the House Special Committee on Education his bill could help schools recruit and keep teachers.

''We have a major shortage statewide in teachers,'' Stevens said Wednesday. ''This is just a piece of the puzzle. This doesn't solve all our problems.''

The Alaska Student Loan Program estimates the program would cost about $170,000 in the 2003 fiscal year and about $850,000 by the 2007 fiscal year, said finance officer Sheila King.

An existing Alaska program forgives up to 100 percent of loans for students teaching in rural Alaska, King said. However, students must be nominated for the program in high school by their school districts, must major in education and must return to teach in rural Alaska.

That doesn't help students who decide later in their college career or even after college to become teachers, Stevens said.

A separate bill forgives part of an Alaska loan for anyone returning or staying in Alaska to work. It too would forgive 10 percent per year worked up to five years.

Rep. John Davies' bill has a higher price tag. Depending on how many people participate, cost estimates range from $8.5 million by the 2007 fiscal year to $21.3 million.

Davies, D-Fairbanks, said he wanted to offer the incentive to people in all professions, particularly areas where Alaska suffers from a shortage, such as nursing.

''We have a pretty huge brain drain,'' Davies said.

Education administrators and parents greeted the bills enthusiastically.

Districts around the country are short of teachers and are offering such breaks as signing bonuses and low-interest housing loans, said Jack Walsh, an administrator with the Kodiak Island Borough School District.

''There are a lot of things we have to compete with,'' Walsh said.

He suggested forgiving a greater percentage of a loan for those teaching in such hard-to-fill specialties as math and special education.

Arnold Shryock of Kodiak said he'd like to see the plan apply to people like his daughter who've already taken out loans. Both bills would apply only to loans taken after June 30, 2001.

Rep. Con Bunde, R-Anchorage, who chairs the special education committee, said both bills offer potential solutions to valid concerns. He's not sure, though whether the state can afford them or whether they're the most cost-effective ways to keep good workers.

''As always, the devil's in the details and the dollars,'' Bunde said.

The committee took no action on either bill Wednesday. Bunde said they will be considered again in two weeks.



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