College students who want to teach could get a free ride at state universities — if they’re willing to work somewhere in rural Arizona or some inner-city schools for at least four years.
The proposal by Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, would provide loans for students willing to attend teacher-training programs at one of the state’s three public universities.
But the real carrot would be after they graduate: One year’s worth of tuition and fees would be knocked off the balance for each year they teach in a community that the state Board of Education determines has a teacher shortage. Four years would wipe out the debt.
The program would start small, with $1.5 million. Schapira figures that should provide money for 300 students a year with resident tuition now in the $5,000 range.
Students not living at home would still pay room and board.
HB2206 is above and beyond several proposals made earlier this week by Gov. Janet Napolitano to entice more people into the profession. She wants to boost starting pay to at least $33,000 a year and provide even higher salaries to those willing to teach math and science.
But Schapira said neither of the governor’s programs do anything to address the problems that some schools have getting teachers. “It’s difficult with a $33,000 minimum salary ... to get the teachers to go to those places,” he said.
Schapira has a powerful ally: Rep. Mark Anderson, RMesa, chairman of the House Education Committee, agreed to co-sponsor the bill. In fact, Anderson already is working to expand the scope of the measure to provide the same loan forgiveness to math and science teachers.
But Anderson said a main purpose of the bill will be to get more teachers to work — and live — outside the state’s major metropolitan areas.
He acknowledged that help could be only temporary: Once students work off the loan after four years, there is nothing legally tying them to the community. And that could put these schools in the perennial position of hiring inexperienced teachers and losing them four years later.
“I don’t know that somebody would want to sign a thing saying, ‘I’m going to be there for 25 years,’” Anderson said.
“But at least you have, hopefully, a quality teacher for that time period,” he said. “There are a lot of benefits to living in a rural area.”