Senate Bill 2146
Removes the cap on annual awards and expands eligibility for the Winter-Reed Teacher Loan Repayment Program.
Referred to Senate Education Committee
On February 2, SB 2146 was referred to the Senate Education Committee, where it awaits a vote.
Explanation of the Bill
Senate Bill 2146 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 2146 would also remove the cap on annual awards for the program as well as remove the repealer on the program, which is set to expire on July 1 of this year.
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 three years of the program.
SB 2146 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 2146. Furthermore, SB 2146 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 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, roughly in line with the average teacher salary in Mississippi). 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.
|On February 2, SB 2146 was referred to the Senate Education Committee.