JUNEAU (AP) -- Some teachers could have part of their student loans forgiven under a bill that passed the House Monday.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Joe Green, R-Anchorage, said it's one step to address a growing teacher shortage.
Under House Bill 43, the state would forgive part of the loans of teachers who work in areas where there is a shortage. The shortages could be in subject areas, like math, or in geographical areas, like rural Alaska.
If the bill becomes law, the state would forgive loans taken out after a student's sophomore year. The program would apply only to loans taken out after July 1, 2001, and a person would have to teach five years to receive the full benefit of the program. Only those who attended college in Alaska would be eligible.
Rep. Gretchen Guess, D-Anchorage, tried to amend the bill to provide the loan forgiveness for students who attend school outside the state.
''I think it's important that every Alaska student, whether they go to school in state or out of state, is eligible for this program,'' Guess said.
That would encourage those students to return to Alaska to teach, instead of staying Outside, she said. Alaska's universities don't have the capacity to supply all the teachers Alaska's schools need, she added.
Green opposed the amendment. He said the bill as written would not only help supply teachers in Alaska, but would encourage students to attend Alaska's university system. Also, he said, expanding the eligibility requirements would raise the cost of the program.
The state estimates the program would cost $85,000 in fiscal 2003, with the cost growing to about $425,000 by fiscal year 2007.
The amendment failed as did an attempt by Guess to amend the bill to provide forgiveness for freshman and sophomore year loans.
Green said the forgiveness was intentionally limited to the later years because many students drop out of college during their first two years. He didn't want to encourage freshmen and sophomores to take out loans, thinking they would be forgiven. He feared they would drop out and find themselves ineligible for the forgiveness and unable to repay the loans.
The bill passed the House 37-0. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.
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