Bill expanding access to student loan debt relief advances from state Senate committee
State senators advanced legislation expanding access to student loan debt relief for teachers in the First State.
State Sen. Marie Pinkney (D-Bear) seeks to offer minority teachers throughout the state more support by giving them an opportunity to participate in a state loan repayment program.
In Wednesday’s Senate Education Committee meeting, State Sen. Elizabeth Lockman (D-Wilmington) said the bill is structured to adjust to the changing demographics of the state's population.
“It is really important that our educators reflect our student population as you said," Lockman said. "You know right now we know who falls into those minority racial and ethnic groups but that could change so I really appreciate your clarification about that language.”
Currently, the loan repayment program is open to teachers working in high needs schools or in high need subject areas, such as language, STEM and special education. Pinkney’s bill creates a third category of qualified teachers, people from a minority racial and ethnic background.
State Sen. Colin Bonini (R-Southeast Dover) questioned the necessity of making the program available to teachers who may represent a minority, but work in a high performing school.
Pinkney says those teachers also struggle to pay off their loans, and the goal of this bill is to encourage more minority representation in all schools.
“This bill is not addressing the issue of low income schools," Pinkney said. "This is addressing the issue of massive, burdening student loan debt. So, just because a teacher is working at the school with the highest income and the wealthiest and whitest population doesn't mean that they don’t go home and struggle to pay off their student loan debts.”
The program takes into account a teacher’s debt to income ratio to determine their priority for receiving debt relief.
Committee Chair Laura Sturgeon (D-Brandywine West) suggests that part of the program may need to be reexamined to give higher priority to minority teachers also working in a high needs school and/or teaching a high needs subject.
The program received $700 thousand this year. Program facilitators say it could use even more if the state can allocate them.
Juliet Murawski with the Department of Education says only a little more than half of teachers who applied last year got funds. She also expects this bill would increase the number of applicants, if approved.