TRENTON – Legislation to establish a loan redemption program under which teachers could have a portion of their undergraduate loans forgiven by the state in exchange for work at a school in New Jersey was approved last week by the Senate Education Committee.
“Tasked with preparing the next generation of scientists, nurses and community leaders of our state, teachers have what is arguably the most difficult job there is,” said state Sen. Nia H. Gill (D-Essex/Passaic), a sponsor of the proposed legislation. “But to become teachers, many of these individuals are forced to take on massive amounts of debt that will take years to pay off. We have to do everything we possibly can to attract and retain excellent teachers. A loan forgiveness program will serve as an incentive for our best and brightest to stay here after college and to choose a New Jersey school to start their careers.”
The bill (S-543) would create the New Jersey College Loans to Assist State Students (NJCLASS) Teacher Loan Redemption Program in the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority. The program would allow loan recipients to redeem 10 percent of their NJCLASS loan amounts for each year of service as a teacher in a school in New Jersey.
“This program will allow us to better support the teaching profession by helping to alleviate the financial burden of loans on those who have committed their lives to educating our children,” said state Sen. M. Teresa Ruiz (D-Essex), another sponsor of the bill. “It will also send a message to teachers that we recognize the tremendous responsibility they are given as educators and are grateful for their hard work.”
The average debt load carried by 2010 graduates of a four-year public or four-year private non-profit institution in New Jersey was $23,792, according to The Project on Student Debt at the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit independent research and policy organization funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation and The BayTree Fund. The report indicated that nationally students who graduated from college with student loans in 2010 owed an average of $25,250, up 5 percent from $24,000 in 2009. The information was based on data from more than 1,000 colleges, representing half of all public and private nonprofit four-year schools.
Under the bill, in order to participate in the loan redemption program, a person must have been an undergraduate student borrower in the NJCLASS Loan Program. A participating teacher must also be a resident of the State who obtained initial employment in a New Jersey school after the effective date of the bill.
The measure was approved by a vote of 3-1-1. The bill now heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for a vote.
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