As summer comes to a close and Utah’s students get ready to go back to school, I’m reminded of the critical role education plays in helping children reach their full potential. Many factors contribute to a student’s success, but none is more crucial than the presence of talented teachers.
Our teachers are indispensable. In fact, study after study prove that teacher quality is the single-greatest determinant of student success. This fact is even more pertinent as school districts across our state scramble to fill vacancies to address one of the worst teacher shortages in Utah’s history.
Our schools are losing teachers at an alarming rate, and unless we act quickly, our students will suffer the consequences. In Congress, I’m working hard to address this crisis by reducing the high turnover rate in the teaching profession that lies at the root of the current shortage.
Teaching is a noble profession — but it’s not an easy one. Educators work long hours, often for low pay, and their jobs require an extraordinary level of emotional investment that can leave many of them burned out after just a few years in the classroom. Nowhere is this phenomenon more apparent than in Utah, where over 70 percent of young teachers who entered the profession in 2008 had left within eight years.
We need new approaches at both the state and national levels to ensure that good teachers enter and remain in the profession. That’s why I introduced the Teacher Loan Repayment Act — a bipartisan initiative that streamlines federal loan assistance programs to alleviate the burden of student debt and encourage our brightest graduates to pursue careers in education.
The existing student loan repayment program is so complicated and cumbersome that few teachers actually take advantage of it. My bill, however, would improve the outdated patchwork of loan assistance programs and replace it with a streamlined process, making it easier for cash-strapped graduates to enter the classroom.
Instead of having to wait years to qualify for loan relief, my proposal would allow teachers to receive an upfront monthly loan payment immediately upon graduation. These payments would start at $250 and increase with each year teachers spend in the classroom, reaching as much as $400 over time. With increasing payments, educators have greater incentive to remain in the profession.
Ultimately, teachers could supplement their hard-earned salaries by receiving up to $23,400 in loan forgiveness over their first six years in the classroom. If enacted, this bill would be a boon to both current and future teachers and would bring simplicity to a federal program fraught with complexity and overburdened by bureaucratic bloat.
In addition to reducing student debt for teachers, I’m also working to enhance their professional development opportunities. Utah’s teachers frequently tell me they felt unprepared during their first few years on the job. Sadly, this lack of preparation leads many to seek alternative careers.
To help new teachers feel less overwhelmed and more confident in the classroom, I introduced the Elevating Educator Preparation Through Innovation Act. This bipartisan legislation would allow school districts greater flexibility to partner with outside providers to offer high-quality professional development for teachers who are just beginning their careers. It would also create a stronger connection between a teacher’s clinical experiences and his or her professional development once hired by a school. Building this connection will help teachers feel more prepared during the early years of their careers, leading to improved teacher retention rates.
By laying aside partisan differences and coming together to support these commonsense proposals, Congress can take meaningful steps to address Utah’s teaching shortage and keep our best teachers in the classroom. During back-to-school month — and all throughout the year — we should show educators our appreciation not only in word but also in deed. We can start by fighting for the policies that will help our teachers succeed.
Orrin Hatch is the senior U.S. senator from Utah.