Senate Bill 2585
Removes the cap on annual awards and expands eligibility for the Winter-Reed Teacher Loan Repayment Program; establishes the STRIDE Scholarship Program.
House and Senate conferees failed to file a conference report for SB 2585 by the March 27 deadline, causing this bill to die in conference.
Explanation of the Bill
Senate Bill 2585 would expand eligibility for the Winter-Reed Teacher Loan Repayment Program to include teachers regardless of years of experience or pathway into the profession. SB 2585 would also remove the cap on annual awards for the program.
As amended, SB 2585 would also establish the STRIDE Scholarship Program, which would provide funding for high school students to complete dual-credit courses, overload courses, challenge courses, alternative learning opportunities (e.g., internships), and college and career-related examinations. Relatedly, there are also amendments to the Learn to Earn Act which would require school districts to adopt a policy regarding alternative learning opportunities.
Winter-Reed was created in 2021 to attract and retain Mississippi teachers in districts across the state by offering loan repayment assistance in return for years of service, particularly in geographic critical shortage areas. Eligible teachers can receive up to $7,500 over three years if they teach in a non-critical shortage district or up to $15,000 over three years if they teach in a critical shortage district. Currently, eligibility for an initial award is limited to first-year teachers who earned a license via the traditional route (i.e., they studied education at the undergraduate level). Teachers must receive an initial award during their first year of teaching to be eligible for the additional two years of loan repayment assistance. The Office of Student Financial Aid (SFA), which administers the program, may only grant up to 150 first-year awards each year on a first-come, first-served basis—even when there are available funds for additional awards, as has been the case for the first two years of the program.
SB 2585 would open eligibility to teachers regardless of years of experience, meaning that initial applicants would not have to be in their first year of teaching. Recipients would still be limited to three years of loan repayment assistance. Teachers who earned a license via the alternate route (i.e., teachers who earned their credentials after earning an undergraduate degree) would also be eligible under SB 2585. Furthermore, SB 2585 would allow SFA to utilize all funds appropriated for the Winter-Reed program to grant awards to as many eligible applicants as these funds allow.
These changes would increase the number of teachers receiving loan repayment assistance at a time when crushing student loan debt has become the reality for roughly half of Mississippi teachers. A recent survey of 6,496 teachers by Mississippi First found that teachers with student loan debt reported being much more likely to leave the classroom (58.0%) than teachers without student debt (48.8%). This increase in attrition risk for teachers with student loan debt is likely explained by an inability to pay off student debt balances that often surpass annual salaries for Mississippi teachers (for example, 23.5% of all teachers reported a student loan balance of at least $50,000, which surpassed the average teacher salary in 2021-2022 of $47,902). Offering student loan repayment assistance through a program like Winter-Reed creates a viable path to paying off this debt while incentivizing service in districts where teachers are most needed. Expanding Winter-Reed would serve to heighten its impact.
STRIDE Scholarship Program
The STRIDE Scholarship Program would include three components: the College Scholarship Program, the Opportunity Scholarship Program, and the Graduation Scholarship Program.
The College Scholarship Program and Opportunity Scholarship Program
The College Scholarship Program and Opportunity Scholarship Program would award funding for high school students to complete dual-credit courses at public community or junior colleges. The former would provide funding for academic courses, while the latter would provide funding for career and technical education (CTE) courses. Scholarships would amount to $150 per semester credit hour for academic courses, and $250 per semester credit hour for CTE courses. Scholarships would be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The funds would be credited directly to the college providing instruction. Both programs would be administered by the Mississippi Community College Board.
There are numerous high schools around the state that partner with local community and junior colleges to offer dual-credit programs. However, most (if not all) of these programs require students to pay the cost of tuition for their college courses. HB 729 would remove this cost barrier, potentially increasing enrollment in dual-credit courses.
The Graduation Scholarship Program
The Graduation Scholarship Program would award funding for students in grades 7-12 to complete “overload” courses, “challenge” courses, alternative learning opportunities (e.g., internships), college entrance exams, career and technical certification/licensure exams, or postsecondary credit-bearing exams (e.g., AP exams). HB 729 offers a vague definition for overload courses, only stating that the course must “be offered by an accredited provider” and “be taught by an individual certified to teach…in Mississippi.” It does not provide a definition for challenge courses.
Scholarships under the Graduation Scholarship Program would amount to $225 per overload course; HB 729 does not specify a maximum scholarship amount for the other types of courses or examinations. Scholarships would be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis. The funds would be credited directly to the participating education providers. The program would be administered by the Mississippi Department of Education.
Funding for all three scholarship programs would be subject to appropriation. If the program is not funded through the budget, it will not have an effect.
Changes to the Learn to Earn Act
The Learn to Earn Act, established in 2020, authorized local school boards to adopt a policy to create alternative learning opportunities, such as internships and apprenticeships. HB 729 would require the adoption of such a policy.
School districts currently have the ability to establish alternative learning opportunities but may have little incentive to do so. Amending the Learn to Earn Act to require school districts to implement these opportunities, and providing funding for these opportunities through the Graduation Scholarship Program, could result in a higher rate of participation.
|1/16/23||On January 16, SB 2585 was referred to the Senate Education Committee.|
|1/31/23||On January 31, the Senate Education Committee passed SB 2585.|
|2/7/23||On February 7, the Senate passed SB 2585.|
|2/28/23||On February 28, the House Education Committee amended and passed SB 2585 to include the STRIDE Scholarship Program, which would provide funding for high school students to complete dual-credit courses, overload courses, challenge courses, alternative learning opportunities (e.g., internships), and college and career-related examinations. The House had previously passed the STRIDE Scholarship Program via House Bill 729, which died in committee after the Senate failed to take action on the bill.|
|3/7/23||On March 7, the House passed the amended version of SB 2585.|
|3/23/23||On March 23, the Senate invited conference on SB 2585. Senate conferees include Dennis DeBar, David Blount, and Chris Johnson. House conferees include Richard Bennett, Kent McCarty, and Daryl Porter.|
|3/27/23||House and Senate conferees failed to file a conference report for SB 2585 by the March 27 deadline, causing this bill to die in conference.|