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Assembly Panel Advances Watson Coleman Bill to Create Incentives to Attract, Retain Teachers at Struggling Schools

(TRENTON) – An Assembly committee on Thursday advanced legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrat Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-Mercer/Hunterdon) that would provide monetary incentives to help retain and attract teachers to struggling schools in New Jersey.

The bill (A-2297) establishes a loan redemption program in the Higher Education Students Assistance Authority, and a bonus program for teachers employed in schools in need of improvement. The bill defines a school in need of improvement as any public school that as of the 2011-2012 school year failed to make adequate yearly progress for two or more years pursuant to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

“A good teacher can make all the difference in how a child approaches education. Nearly 30 percent of the state’s schools failed to meet targets in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. How is a school supposed to improve when it can’t keep or attract teachers?” asked Watson Coleman. “These incentives serve to encourage teachers to remain in these schools and help strengthen them. If extending certain benefits to teachers can help improve academic performance and create a better learning environment for students who may be falling behind, then they are worth pursuing.”

Under the loan redemption program, a participant would redeem 20 percent of eligible student loan expenses for each year of service as a teacher in a school in need of improvement in New Jersey, for a total redemption of 100 percent of eligible student loan expenses in return for five full years of service. “Eligible student loan expenses” is defined as the cumulative total of the principal and interest due on student loans used to cover the cost of attendance while enrolled in an undergraduate or graduate degree program at an institution of higher education.

Under the bill, the authority must annually submit a report on the program to the governor and the Legislature. The report would be submitted no later than August 1 of each year and would include, at a minimum, information on the total number of participants receiving loan redemption under the program, the impact of the program on attracting teachers to positions in schools in need of improvement, the impact of the program on improving student scores on state assessments, and the number of participants who withdrew from the program prior to the completion of the required service.

“The job of a teacher is demanding and rarely ends at the end of the school day. If we can make the job more rewarding, we can help keep existing teachers and attract new ones to schools in need of help,” said Watson Coleman. “The future of our students is worth the investment.”

The bill was released by the Assembly Higher Education Committee.