Teachers who work in low-income schools could get help from the federal government to pay back their student loans.

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A federal bill introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers last week would end existing college-loan programs and replace them with one that would help teachers pay for their college educations. The new program would give teachers incentives to take jobs in the most challenging schools and stay there.

The bill, called the Teacher Loan Repayment Act, would provide $250-$400 a month to help play the loans of teachers working in Title I schools — those schools that enroll at least 40 percent of children from low-income families. After 10 years, a teacher’s loan would be fully canceled.  

Few teachers take advantage of the current crop of federally-sponsored teacher loan assistance programs because eligibility requirements are confusing and the loans require lengthy commitments, the lawmakers said. And according to a Government Accountability Office report, nearly a third of the grant recipients have seen their grants converted to loans because they weren’t able to fulfill the grant requirements.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash.
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash.

Sponsors of the bill include U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, a Democrat who represents Washington’s 6th District, who said in a statement that loan programs need to make sure that teachers aren’t left with large loans and substantial debt. “Our bipartisan, bicameral bill creates a more effective program that gives teachers the right support so they can make a difference in the lives of kids everywhere,” said Kilmer, who noted that both of his own parents were public school teachers.

Other sponsors include Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Mark Warner, D-Va.; and representatives Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., Susan Brooks, R-Ind., and Richard Hanna, R-N.Y.

Hannah said the bill would consolidate “the failed crop of existing loan repayment programs into one streamlined, accessible program with clearer incentives and fewer bureaucratic hurdles.”