The U.S. faces a critical shortage of qualified teachers. However, the average public school teacher salary of $55,418 leaves little financial wiggle room, and college degrees can be expensive. If you are beginning a teaching career carrying student loan debt, there are programs available that can alleviate, if not eliminate, that burden.
Perkins Loan Cancellation
If you work as a teacher on a full-time basis for a low-income primary or secondary public school, you may be eligible to have a percentage of your Perkins loan cancelled for each full academic year you complete, up to 100 percent of the total you owe. The Department of Education has a list of schools that qualify. If you teach special education, or in a subject designated by your state as one with a critical shortage of teachers, you may also be eligible for this program. Assuming all other guidelines are met, the federal government cancels 15 percent of your loan for each of your first and second years of teaching, 20 percent for each of your third and fourth years, and 30 percent for your fifth year, including all interest accrued in each year.
Federal Loan Forgiveness
The Department of Education also forgives a portion of direct and Stafford loans, whether subsidized or unsubsidized, provided you're a highly qualified teacher and meet the basic requirements set out in the Perkins loan cancellation program. You're considered “highly qualified” if you have at least a bachelor’s degree and have obtained full state certification as a teacher. This program forgives as much as $5,000 of applicable debt after you’ve been working full-time in a qualified school for five consecutive academic years. If you teach math, science or special education, you’re eligible to have as much as $17,500 of direct or Stafford-loan debt forgiven.
Most states have their own loan repayment programs for teachers. Some focus on particular subjects the state has identified as a critical need within the public school system. For example, Oklahoma reimburses certain student loan expenses if you have a certificate in math or science, and agree to teach in a public secondary school in the state for five years. Other state programs fulfill needs in areas unmet by federal debt forgiveness programs. For example, Colorado repays up to $1,000 in student-loan debt per year for two years if you work at a licensed child-care facility within the state. The American Federation for Teachers lists over 30 state programs providing education grants or loan forgiveness for teachers.
Private Sector Programs
In addition to government resources, there are a number of professional associations, non-profit organizations and corporations that offer grants and loan repayment programs for teachers. Many of these programs target specific areas such as math, science, or special education where there is a critical need for well-qualified educators. Other programs focus on racial minorities and other groups historically under-represented in the teaching profession. The Woodrow Wilson-Rockefeller Brothers Fellowship for Aspiring Teachers of Color, for example, awards 25 fellowships each year to minority students seeking master’s degrees in education who are willing to devote three years of service to a low-income public school with an urgent need for new teachers.
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