Senate Bill 2305

Pending before the Senate is Senate Bill 2305, which would create a loan repayment program for new Mississippi teachers known as the “William F. Winter and Jack Reed, Sr., Teacher Loan Repayment Program.” The Winter-Reed Loan Repayment Program would incentivize recent college graduates to teach in Mississippi, particularly in a critical shortage area, by offering up to three years of loan repayment assistance. [A companion bill in the House, House Bill 1179, has only minor differences.] Below, we explain the bill in a question-and-answer format.

Loan repayment programs pay some or all of a participants’ student loans, usually after the participant has completed a service obligation, such as teaching. Conversely, loan forgiveness programs convert some or all of a participants’ student loans into grants that do not have to be repaid, or they cancel some or all of the debt altogether. Historically, Mississippi has created multiple loan forgiveness programs for teachers, but the only active loan repayment program in the last two decades was the Mississippi Teacher Loan Repayment program, which was exclusively for alternate route teachers.

Although it is possible for a loan repayment program to pay monthly installments, doing so requires more administrative overhead to process frequent payments and ensure ongoing eligibility. This is why loan repayment programs, like loan forgiveness programs, typically operate on an annual basis, meaning that participants must complete the service obligation before loan repayment or loan forgiveness begins. Loan deferral programs, on the other hand, allow participants to delay repayment of their loans in real time. Depending on the deferral program, a participant may delay both principal and interest payments without penalty or may still accrue interest while the principal is in deferral. Since most loans are federally funded and administered, states do not have the power to institute loan deferral programs affecting most borrowers.

Under SB 2305CS as passed by the Senate Education Committee, loan repayment assistance would be available to new Mississippi public school teachers who have graduated from a regionally accredited college or university, including those out of state, and earned a standard five-year license. This means that alternate route teachers are not eligible for this program as they typically do not qualify for a standard five-year license in their first year of teaching.1 Teachers must work full time for a full year in a Mississippi school district to receive loan repayment assistance.

Potential recipients would lose their eligibility if they are in default or are delinquent on their loan payments. Teachers who have previously participated in a forgivable loan program in Mississippi are not eligible. (This will affect a negligible number of people as these programs have not been funded in several years.) Finally, teachers must apply for the program in their first year of teaching. Second- and third-year teachers are not eligible for new awards, only a renewal of their participation.

The proposed Winter-Reed Program has two tiers of loan repayment amounts, based on whether a teacher works in a geographical critical teacher shortage. Teachers in non-shortage areas can earn up to $10,500 over three years as follows: up to $2,500 in their first year of teaching, $3,500 in their second year, and $4,500 in their third year. Teachers in critical shortage districts can earn up to $16,500 total, $2,000 each year more than teachers in non-shortage areas: $4,500 in their first year, $5,500 in their second year, and $6,500 in their third year. Awards are not guaranteed after the first year and must be renewed each year. 

The proposed Winter-Reed Program has two tiers of loan repayment amounts, based on whether a teacher works in a geographical critical teacher shortage. Teachers in non-shortage areas can earn up to $10,500 over three years as follows: up to $2,500 in their first year of teaching, $3,500 in their second year, and $4,500 in their third year. Teachers in critical shortage districts can earn up to $16,500 total, $2,000 each year more than teachers in non-shortage areas: $4,500 in their first year, $5,500 in their second year, and $6,500 in their third year. Awards are not guaranteed after the first year and must be renewed each year. 

Please note: because this bill is subject to appropriations, the actual amounts may change through the legislative process.

In the Winter-Reed program, participants earn a payment towards their student loan balance for each full year they work full time in a Mississippi school district. The program will send the payment directly to their loan provider. Loan repayment assistance can be applied to both federal and private student loan debt, including principal, interest, and “related expenses” (such as loan origination fees).

No. The award amounts for a given year of teaching would be paid at the end of the school year, meaning that recipients would still be obligated to make their full monthly student loan payments, as determined by their repayment plan. Failure to make monthly payments throughout the year could result in losing eligibility for loan repayment assistance as this would cause the participant to become delinquent on the debt and possibly put the borrower in default. Student loan payments made throughout the year would not be eligible for reimbursement under Winter-Reed, so a participant would need outstanding debt at the end of a year in order to qualify for Winter-Reed.

Under SB 2305CS as passed by the Senate Education Committee, teachers who move between districts will retain their eligibility, though the level of funding will be dependent on the critical shortage status of the new district, regardless of the award a recipient had previously received.

SB 2305 would eliminate a series of forgivable loan programs that have received either negligible or no funding at all in recent years. These include all of the following: 

  • the Assistant Teacher Forgivable Loan Program (37-106-35); 
  • the Teacher Education Scholars Forgivable Loan Program (37-106-37); 
  • the William F. Winter Teacher Forgivable Loan Program (37-106-57); including the William Winter Teacher Forgivable Loan (WWTS) and the William Winter Alternate Route Teacher Forgivable Loan (WWAR); 
  • the Mississippi Teaching Fellows Forgivable Loan Program (37-106-77); and 
  • the Teacher Education Alternate Route Certification Scholars Program (37-106-79). 

The Critical Needs Teacher Forgivable Loan Program (37-106-55); which includes the Critical Needs Teacher Forgivable Loan, the Critical Needs Alternate Route Forgivable Loan, and the Mississippi Teacher Loan Repayment Program;2 is not included in the bill, but the program is set to expire on its own on July 1, 2021, barring some other action by the legislature. This means that if SB2305CS passes and 37-106-55 is also repealed, the only teacher-specific financial aid programs would be Winter-Reed and the Graduate Teacher Forgivable Loan Program, which is authorized under 37-106-47(1)(a). The Graduate Teacher program has also not been funded in recent memory, but even if it was, it is not focused on recruiting or retaining new teachers. Instead, it is meant to incentivize pursuing graduate degrees among current teachers. As a result, Winter-Reed would become the sole teacher-specific financial aid program directed at new teachers.

1 Most alternate route teachers teach under a special non-renewable license while completing their educator preparation program. As a result, they would not be eligible for this program even though the bill only requires a baccalaureate degree and does not further specify a degree from an educator preparation program.

2 The MTLR regulations cite 37-106-55 as the statutory authority for the program. However, identical language is in the William Winter Teacher Forgivable Loan Program code. Either could be used to continue the program if one was repealed. Compare 37-106-55(4) and 37-106-57(7).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *