The average teacher graduating with their bachelor’s degree is taking on over $26,000 in student loan debt. If a teacher decides that they want to go on to pursue a master’s degree, there is significantly more debt. With those levels of student debt, a brand-new Idaho teacher looks at payments between $200-$400 a month. On a salary of around $40,000 a year, Idaho’s educators are often working two or three jobs just to make loan payments on time. It’s no surprise that teachers leave Idaho for better opportunities in other states.
Unfortunately, our rural school districts are feeling the impact the most. Rural schools make up about 75 percent of all Idaho’s districts and most of them are struggling to fill teaching positions. Rural districts have to get creative to make sure that students have a teacher in the classroom by doing things like allowing unlicensed teachers in the classroom. Parents in rural districts have no choice but to send their kids to schools with teachers who are not certified to teach and may be lacking necessary credentials.
As former teachers, we know the importance of having a quality teacher in every classroom. However, the Idaho legislature’s inaction to address the issue of massive teacher shortage has made it nearly impossible for rural districts to attract the teachers they desperately need. Our rural school districts are in desperate need of a meaningful effort to recruit teachers. If Idaho continues to ignore the growing problem of teacher shortage in rural districts, our students will be showing up to classrooms with no teachers.
For the last several sessions, Idaho Democrats have introduced legislation that would give student loan relief to rural teachers. It hasn’t made it to the desk of the governor because the legislature has refused to make this necessary investment in Idaho’s teachers. We are committed to bringing this legislation back again this year because our rural schools need this option.
Public schools are the cornerstone of Idaho’s rural communities, but they have been left behind by the legislature. It’s unreasonable and shortsighted to keep asking highly educated individuals to work in rural schools when the best we have to offer is the need to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet. Many of our teachers have been willing to take this deal because they are so dedicated to educating Idaho’s youth, but it is not sustainable. Every year, we lose more and more teachers to states that are willing to show educators the appreciation that they deserve.
We cannot have an educated workforce, a thriving economy, or a successful state if we do not provide our students a quality education. Idaho’s teachers and students are our most valuable asset. Our rural communities are counting on us.
Janie Ward-Engelking is an Idaho senator (D-Boise) and Sally Toone is an Idaho representative (D-Gooding).