Wes Hickman (202=224-5972) or Kevin Bishop (864-250-1417)
-- U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham's (R-South Carolina) long drive to increase loan forgiveness for qualified teachers is about to become law.
Today the U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation increasing the amount of loan forgiveness available for teachers in critical areas from $5,000 to $17,500. The legislation has already been approved by the House of Representatives and President Bush is expected to sign it into law.
“There is a drastic shortage of qualified teachers in critical needs areas,” said Graham, a member of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP). “This loan forgiveness program is an important first step in eliminating the shortage. It’s a great recruitment tool that rewards teachers for working in underserved areas of the profession. It is an important investment in the future of children and the country.”
Graham first began pushing loan forgiveness for teachers in 1998 when he served in the U.S. House of Representatives. On previous occasions, the legislation passed the House only to not be taken up by the Senate.
Graham also won high praise for his work on the issue including supportive comments from President Bush and Laura Bush who viewed the loan forgiveness issue as an important component of their effort to provide a quality teacher in every classroom.
Under the loan forgiveness expansion passed today, math, science, and special education teachers who teach in Title I schools can qualify to have up to $17,500 of their student loans forgiven. Critical and widespread shortages exist in these disciplines, particularly in inner city and rural communities.
"While I am pleased this expansion of teacher loan forgiveness looks like it will become law, I will continue to work toward a comprehensive expansion of the current program,” said Graham. “I support loan forgiveness for all disciplines, but the funding simply was not there to expand the program fully at the time. I am hopeful this can occur in the coming years."
“This would not have happened without a big push from President Bush,” said Graham. “Loan forgiveness has been one of his and the First Lady’s signature issues. I truly appreciate their assistance in turning this idea into law.”
“I also would like to thank Senator Gregg and Representative Boehner for helping to push this through Congress with an overwhelming majority,” said Graham. “This idea will truly make a difference in our rural and urban poor schools. A quality teacher in every classroom is exactly what I want.”
Funding for the loan forgiveness program will come from an adjustment in existing law that allowed excessive profits for companies lending money to college students. Under current law, the federal government guarantees a handful of lenders and note holders a 9.5-percent interest rate for student loans. The guaranteed yield on other federally subsidized student loans is a much lower rate -- roughly 4 percent. The federal government had been making up the difference costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
The legislation provides an immediate, one-year solution to the problem, and paves the way for a permanent fix during re-authorization of federal higher education programs next year.
The government will use the anticipated savings of approximately $270 million to pay for the teacher loan forgiveness plan.