Alaska may court teachers

Stevens' measure offers financial incentives to stem educator shortage

Posted: Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Senate Majority Leader Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, has proposed a bill that would provide financial incentives to new-hire teachers by repaying education loans in an effort to fill a shortage in elementary and secondary Alaska schools.

Senate Bill 61 would establish the Alaska Teacher Recruitment Loan Repayment Program, which could repay up to $10,000 in educational loans per teacher. Under the current proposed terms, the loan program would apply to all first-time hires holding the necessary certificates to teach in Alaska hired after July 1, 2005.

Other criteria have yet to be established, such as the length of time a teacher must remain a teacher in the state system. Those criteria would be developed jointly by the Alaska Commission on Postsecondary Education, which administers loan programs for the state, and the Alaska Department of Education, according to Doug Letch, an aide to Sen. Stevens.

"This is a rehash of Senate Bill 84 (introduced in the 23rd Legislature), which passed out of the Health, Education and Social Services Committee in 2003 but got stymied in Finance," Letch said. "It was never heard so we've reintroduced it."

The bill proposes to make expenditures contingent on availability, Letch said. That is, in years where the money is available, loans could be repaid, but the department would be under no obligation to spend funds if budgets were tight. According to the bill, if it were found that funds were insufficient to pay existing awards and take on new applicants, prorated amounts would be divided among existing award recipients and the acceptance of new applications suspended.

"With the passage of this bill, those pursuing a teaching career in Alaska will receive assistance in managing their education-related debt burden so long as they meet the established service requirements," Sen. Stevens said in a statement. "SB 61 will give school districts throughout Alaska an added resource for use in attracting new teachers."

Letch noted that state statutes regarding layoffs and the timing of annual school budget legislation often present difficulties for some teachers and school districts.

"Because of the statute and with the education budget typically being one of the last items the Legislature deals with each year, there's going to be some uncertainty on what the final education numbers are going to be, so laid-off teachers have left for other jobs, leaving vacancies when the budgets are finally decided — which is one of the reasons Sen. Stevens is in favor of early (education) funding," Letch said.

Letch said during the middle of a school year, positions are typically filled. During the interim between school seasons, however, shortages can develop.

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