Helping pay off college debts touted in reducing teacher burnout, staff shortages

By: - February 2, 2022 5:30 am

(Getty Images)

LINCOLN — Early retirements, teacher burnout and fewer students entering teachers colleges: All are combining to create an unprecedented shortage of educators in Nebraska schools, a state legislative committee was told Tuesday.

 “I have never seen the level of teacher shortages that schools are now facing,” said Carri Collins, who supervises principals in the Omaha Public Schools and has been an educator for 20 years.

Collins was among several supporters of two bills that would provide state help to teachers in paying off their student debts.

State Sen. Wendy DeBoer
State Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Omaha
(Courtesy of the Unicameral Information Office)

The proposals, Legislative Bill 1128 from State Sens. Wendy DeBoer of Omaha and LB 945 from Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, would provide income tax deductions of between $5,000 and $6,000 a year on payments on student loans. The deductions would last five years each and be capped at $5 million a year.

Linehan withdrew a third bill, LB 1169. It would have provided “loan forgiveness” grants of $5,000 per year, for four years, for teachers in their first four years of teaching. A fiscal note prepared on the bill said it would cost up to $29 million a year, and the funding source of the bill, federal stimulus funds, had already been obligated.

DeBoer told the committee that she doesn’t have “all the answers” to the teacher shortage but said helping pay off a teacher’s college loan debt could help encourage more students to enter the field and more teachers to stay in the classroom.

The senator, who represents northwest Omaha, said she’s heard from her brother, an OPS teacher, about the lack of planning time for teachers and the resulting burnout and fatigue.

State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan
State Sen. Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn
(Courtesy of the Unicameral Information Office)

Sara Skretta, an administrator at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said enrollment has decreased 35% to 40%  in teachers colleges nationwide in recent years. The decline, she said, began even before the pandemic hit.

The National Education Association recently reported that teachers’ average college debt was about $57,000.

A nationwide poll of 3,621 educators released by the NEA on Monday found that 67% of respondents said burnout was a “very serious issue.”

The top three responses on how to address burnout were to increase teacher pay, hire more teachers and hire more support staff. 

The national survey mirrors many of the findings in a poll done by the Nebraska State Education Association, the state teachers’ union. It found that a significant increase in workload was increasing burnout concerns.

The Legislature’s Education Committee took no action on the two bills following a public hearing.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.