Nebraska’s teacher shortage and people leaving the profession have become a problem for some districts across the state. To address the issue, school leaders have asked state lawmakers to create a student loan forgiveness program. The latest data reports that college graduates from Nebraska had about $26,000 in student debt.
More than 1,000 teachers have left the state’s two largest school districts since the pandemic began, according to the Nebraska State Education Association. In 2020-2021, Omaha Public Schools reported 320 teachers left the profession while Lincoln Public schools reported that 241 teachers left the profession last year.
According to Sara E. Skretta, certification officer at the College of Education and Human Sciences at UNL, Nebraska has seen an almost 48% decrease in student enrollment and completion in educator preparation programs in the last two years. The national average is 38%.
“The educator shortage situation has been something that has the profession has been dealing with for before the pandemic, but the pandemic accelerated the situation,” Skretta said.
Two bills were proposed, LB 1128 and LB 945. LB 1128 was proposed by Sen. Lou Linehan and would forgive up to $5,000 a year for five years of student loans for teachers who agree to work in a Nebraska school.
LB 945 was proposed by Senator Wendy DeBoer, which would forgive $6,000 for five years of student loans for teachers who agree to work in a Nebraska school (https://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/Current/PDF/Intro/LB945.pdf). Both bills are under review by members of the Legislature’s Education Committee.
“My priority is to incentivize beginning teachers by using general funds or whatever else we can use to incentive them to stay in teaching,” Sen. Dave Murman from Kearney said. “Hopefully, they can eventually move up in the profession to get a higher pay.”
The committee will vote on whatever to advance one or both of these bills out of the committee in the next possible weeks, says Murman, who is a member of the Education Committee and leader of District 38. The bills would then be debated on the floor and would have to pass the three levels of debate on the floor before being signed by the governor to go into law on July 1.
“I’m excited by both bills,” Superintendent of Crete Public Schools Josh McDowell said. “It shows our legislature is being forward-thinking in trying to address this problem before it truly becomes a barrier to public schools providing those services that our kids and families deserve.”
Meanwhile, districts have been forced to come up with creative ways to address teacher shortages. At Crete Public Schools, there is a sub-incentive package to combat the challenge of the substitute teacher shortage across the many districts around Nebraska.
The package includes that if substitutes work half of the working days during the school year, they get a certain bonus. If they work 3/4ths of the working days during the school year., they get another bonus. Crete Public Schools have fared better than most schools, only having to rely on one long-term sub this year, and have made it through the year with full-time teaching staff.
McDowell is also part of a group called the Teacher Leader Coalition. This group works to better support teachers and make sure the teachers feel valued, which will hopefully want more teachers to stay at Crete Public Schools. He wants to celebrate everything Crete has to offer, knowing it can be a tough draw to get teachers to come to a rural community.
“We’re aware that our staff is under tremendous stress, just in a profession in general that changes daily,” McDowell said. “We need to support them for them to do great things for our kids and families.”
At the College of Education and Human Sciences at UNL, one of the biggest challenges they faced was managing the practicum (in classroom) experiences for their students. The college had to purposely spend time restructuring and modifying experiences to ensure students received the experience and preparation they needed while dealing with school closures, restrictions, and managing student health.
“Loan forgiveness programs for educators would be hugely helpful,” Skretta said. “Something that would be an improvement is how to get the money into the students’ hands early versus just after they’ve already spent it.”