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House Democrats move to use lottery funds to help pay teachers’ loans

EducationIn February, we reported the startling number that students seeking education degrees in the UNC system had plunged by about 30 percent since 2010, just the latest evidence that the profession is growing increasingly unattractive to prospective teachers.

This week, a handful of state House Democrats have filed legislation they say should help to provide at least one incentive for teachers to remain in North Carolina.

House Bill 1031—co-sponsored by representatives Graig Meyer, Ed Hanes Jr., Bobbie Richardson and Brad Salmon—would funnel $38.5 million of the state’s lottery proceeds in the 2016-2017 fiscal year into a fund geared to help teachers repay their school loans.

According to the draft bill, the fund would be administered by the State Education Assistance Authority and could be used to help pay off loans for undergraduate or graduate studies. The fund would be accessible to licensed, full-time teachers employed in public and charter schools.

Teachers would be able to use the funds to repay oustanding loans for up to four years. Those who receive the financial assistance—limited to no more than $10,000 per calendar year—would be required to sign a “statement of intent” to remain a teacher in the state for at least four years, according to the draft.

House Democrats unveiled the bill in a press conference Wednesday morning, touting the draft legislation as a means for attracting teachers to the state.

Bill supporters said the $38.5 million appropriation is the “windfall” reaped in January by increased attention for a billion-dollar Powerball jackpot.

“We were looking for a way to support schools with a one-time infusion of cash,” said Meyer, a Democrat from Orange County. “We want the windfall to be a jackpot for North Carolina teachers.”

Hanes, a Democrat from Forsyth County, said he believes the legislation benefits the state’s “essential personnel,” teachers who have long been awaiting substantial raises.

“Frankly, the raises are not coming fast enough,” said Hanes. “Our teachers and their families need relief and we need it now.”

As state lawmakers hammer out details of the state’s budget in the coming weeks, it’s clear that how the state utilizes its lottery funds will be pivotal.

Last month, in a presentation on the growing infrastructure needs of North Carolina schools, an official with the N.C. Department of Public Instruction told members of a legislative panel that K-12 funding per gross lottery sales has been on the decline since 2006 (see slide 8 here).

Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget would use the same cash to help pay for textbooks and digital resources, Meyer pointed out Wednesday. However, Meyer indicated he was troubled by such a “precedent” because the general fund is typically used to finance those school needs.

Hanes said that he believes the bill has a chance in the legislature this year.

“There’s absolutely nothing this assembly can’t do if we want to do it,” he said.

 

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House Democrats move to use lottery funds to help pay teachers’ loans