Lawmakers revise student loan forgiveness program for some ND teachers

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BISMARCK, N.D. - The last legislative session revised a program forgiving student loans for certain North Dakota teachers.

The Education Funding committee listened to a report on how the program is working.

The program was started to help North Dakota's schools, especially those in rural areas, to keep staff for three or four years. Forgiveness of student loans can be a strong incentive for teachers fresh out of school to work in rural areas.

"There's always going to be a shortage of teachers as we go forward, so this is needed. It's just, how can we do it better to help us be effective in recruiting and retaining those teachers?" said Brandt Dick, Underwood superintendent.

Two-hundred-and-seventy applications were approved for the last school year, paying up to $6,500 towards each person's student loans.

"We ended a program where we were basically just spreading funds out across pretty much anybody who applied, and so it wasn't accomplishing what we wanted to accomplish which is really to target those areas of high need," said Erin Oban, D-Bismarck.

The North Dakota University System prioritized five critical need areas, and 13 shortage areas. Not everyone agrees with the priorities though.

"I would like to see the money just go to the school districts and let us decide how we're going to allow some funding for student loans to help keep our teachers we want to keep. We know best what are the good teachers that we want to retain and what we need to recruit," said Dick.

The five critical areas of need are science, business, agriculture, engineering and computer science.

Lawmakers said they don't want to make any big changes to the program for three to four years to see how well the new model works.