[Source: Brian Indrelunas, ASU State Press] — A House committee endorsed bills on Tuesday that seek to put more qualified teachers where lawmakers say they’re sorely needed: on American Indian reservations and in math and science classrooms. The House higher education committee endorsed two proposed loan programs for Arizona residents pursuing teaching degrees at the state’s public universities or community colleges. Each would forgive loans in exchange for working in areas in dire need of teachers.
HB 2331 would offer loans that students could repay by teaching at a school on one of Arizona’s American Indian reservations. HB 2206 would offer similar benefits to those who teach math, science or special education in communities facing teacher shortages. In both bills, each year of full-time teaching would pay off one year’s worth of loans. Rep. Albert Tom, D-Chambers, said he introduced HB 2331 on behalf of teachers in his district, which includes most of the Navajo, Hopi, Hualapai and Havasupai reservations. “It’s a matter of survival out there, financially,” he said. “A lot of them can’t make it out there because it’s low salaries. They were having problems paying back their tuition, their loans.”
Tom said since state leaders are touting education as a top priority this year, he introduced the bill “to see if they walk the talk.” Leland Leonard, executive staff assistant in the Navajo Nation Office of the President and Vice President, traveled to Phoenix to voice the tribe’s support. “I think this is a great bill,” Leonard said. “We would like to recruit highly qualified teachers.” The bill also has the support of the Arizona Education Association and the Hopi Tribe. All nine committee members present voted to endorse the bill.
The committee also endorsed HB 2206, a bill introduced by Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, that would establish a similar loan program to attract teachers to math and science classrooms in areas experiencing a teacher shortage. “I was a high school teacher, and to look at the classroom next to me that was empty and had a sub every day…is to know that there’s definitely a shortage in Arizona,” Schapira said. “To me (introducing the bill) seemed like sort of a common-sense thing to do.”
The original bill only required that recipients teach in areas facing a shortage to pay off the loan. But Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Mesa, authored an amendment that requires recipients to teach math, science or special education to repay the loan. “I think this is an important bill and will serve us well,” Anderson said before the committee voted 8-0 to endorse the bill. Schapira’s bill, which would set aside $3.5 million for up to 300 loans in its first year, garnered support from the Arizona Students’ Association and the Arizona Education Association.
Arizona State University student Aaron Thuringer, 22, spoke in favor of the bill. He told lawmakers that schools would get more math and science teachers while universities could attract more education students. Thuringer graduated in December with an interdisciplinary-studies degree in business and history. This month, he started work on an education degree and said he hopes to teach high school social studies. “I just thought it was a better career option than doing something in business,” Thuringer said.