Governor John Carney was joined by lawmakers to announce legislation that would offer student loan relief to teachers and educators in high-needs schools.
The goal of the legislation is to recruit and retain teachers in schools that have high concentrations of low-income, disabled and English language learning students, demographics that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Delaware said the state was failing.
In January, the ACLU of Delaware filed a lawsuit against the state claiming the Department of Education (DOE) provided more support to children who are well off as opposed to those living in poverty.
According to the lawsuit, filed on behalf of Delawareans for Educational Opportunity and the Delaware NAACP, the state failed students from low income families, students with disabilities and students who are English language learners, the same areas that this legislation focuses on.
Educators teaching in high-needs subject areas – such as STEM-related fields, special education and world languages – could also become eligible for student loan repayments. The bill provides up to $2,000 of student loan assistance annually to educators who qualify with a period of up to five years of assistance.
“We’re focused on helping make sure all Delaware children have access to a high-quality education,” said Gov. Carney. “That starts with supporting educators who are in the front of the classroom, preparing our students for the future. This legislation would help us recruit and retain educators serving many of our most vulnerable students. Thank you to Representative Bentz, Senator Townsend, and the Delaware State Education Association (DSEA) for their partnership on this issue.”
The issues raised in the lawsuit from the ACLU were a concern for some time among teachers specifically in Western Sussex County, according to DSEA President Mike Matthews who spoke to Delaware 105.9's Rob Petree and said the association reviewed the lawsuit and, while they have no official position on its legality, the issues raised are something their members have been talking about for years and advocating the state to address.
Earlier this month, Matthews also raised concerns over the salaries of educators in Delaware because teachers are leaving to educate in states like New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania where they're paid more.
In 2016, the average salary for teachers was $59,960 in Delaware, according to the National Education Association that's a 0.4% change since 2015. In New Jersey, the average salary for teachers was $69,330, $66,456 in Maryland, and $65,151 in Pennsylvania.
"Where we fall behind in Delaware is our neighboring states. We lose teachers every year to states like New Jersey where the average teacher pay is $10,000 more a year. We lose teachers to Maryland and Pennsylvania where the average pay is $6,000 to $8,000 more per year. We still are not as competitive with our surrounding states," said Matthews.
"I think the state needs to look at the data that we already have, and they have to survey our educators who are leaving the system before retirement age to go to other states, and ask them why are you moving? They need to take the data that we already and come up with a plan to maybe increase salaries."
In January, Governor John Carney released his budget proposal that suggested a 2-percent raise for all public school teachers at a total cost of $12.6 million, which Matthews said was a great step; however, the conversation needs to continue as the state loses more and more of its educators.
In a follow up story, Jon Neubauer, associate secretary of the DOE's Educator Support Team, said he knows that "for some educators salary certainly may be a reason why they are looking elsewhere."
Following the announcement of this latest legislation, Matthews said “this bill will help educators of all ages who have student debt and work in our high-needs subject areas and schools. It’s another great way to incentivize this work while helping to attract and retain quality educators in Delaware.”
The Governor’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposal would provide $6 million in targeted Opportunity Grant funding for schools serving significant populations of low-income students or English language learners. In addition, it also includes a 2 percent pay raise for educators, to help recruit and retain educators statewide.
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- Rob Petree - Mar 20, 2018