A bill filed in the Florida House of Representatives Friday would provide an option for graduates to relieve their student loan debt for a small price – teaching.
The STEM Teacher Loan Forgiveness Bill, HB 631, would “encourage and incentivize qualified college graduates to remain in the state and teach STEM courses at a public school,” according to the bill’s text.
Up to $16,000 of student loan debts could be covered for recent graduates who qualify. Candidates must complete eight years of consecutive employment as a STEM (science, technology, engineering or mathematics) teacher. To qualify, they must be a graduate of a state university, obtain a teaching certificate, be employed by a school district and teach any STEM subject at a public school within Florida.
If passed, the bill would become effective July 1, 2015.
Ed Narain, State Representative from District 61 in Tampa, who introduced the bill, said his concern about the number of capable and experienced teachers for STEM subjects in Florida schools prompted him to create the loan-forgiveness program.
The Florida House’s General Appropriations Act will fund the bill.
Thirty percent of his constituency is under 20 years old, according to Narain. He wants to incentivize young people to enter the teaching profession.
“The average teacher is only teaching four years before they leave the profession,” he said.
Narain said a lot of students graduate high school with little to no experience with comprehensive STEM education. He said many college graduates don’t even consider teaching because of student debt or other more lucrative career paths.
Morgan Henderson, 21, is an electrical engineering student at the University of Florida. She and her friend Casey Martin, 21, both switched their majors from a pre-med track to electrical engineering so as to not be locked into medical school.
Henderson was previously a cognitive neuroscience major and Martin studied anthropology. Martin said the switch opened more doors.
They both said they think many engineering graduates will not think the student debt forgiveness is much of an incentive.
“For engineering, you make so much money,” Henderson said. “Our estimated starting salaries would more than cover that.”
Both agreed they did not have adequate instruction in science and mathematics fields while attending public high schools.
“I can say from personal experience, I didn’t have one good math teacher in high school,” said Martin.
“My physics teacher only wanted to teach out of the goodness of his heart,” added Henderson.
The gap between those who are qualified and those who have the desire to teach is the reason Narain said he took the steps to create an incentive plan.
He hopes the bill will pass, but Narain said he is open to amendments and will continue to introduce it every legislative session.
Narain said education policy is a top priority for him in office.
“Education has been the key to overcoming almost any circumstance.”