March 07, 2017

Kaine Cosponsors Bill To Strengthen Education In Rural Virginia

WASHINGTON, D.C.  – U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, has co-sponsored a bill with Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and Senator Al Franken (D-MN) to boost teacher recruitment in rural Virginia. The Rural Educator Support and Training (REST) Act would address teacher workforce shortages in rural America by providing scholarships, loan forgiveness, and professional development opportunities to educators who commit to work in rural schools.

“I’ve heard directly from Virginians about the difficulties in retaining teachers in rural areas, and this bill seeks to address that problem by creating incentives to attract more educators to teach in rural Virginia,” Kaine said. “A key part of investing in our students is making an investment in our teachers. By supporting their work through fair pay and professional development opportunities, we can help ensure our students are receiving a high-quality education regardless of zip code.”

“Speaking as a school board member from a rural district, I am very excited about the possibility of this legislation. Senator Kaine's support of the REST Act shows that he recognizes the challenges rural public education faces in trying to attract and retain talent and is committed to addressing those challenges in a meaningful way. Tangible benefits like student loan forgiveness and funding for graduate degrees are essential for rural districts that have to compete with the higher salaries offered by urban districts,” said Dr. Paige Cash, member of the Pulaski County School Board.

Schools across the country are facing the first major teacher shortage since the 1990s. Teachers currently make approximately 20 percent less than other college graduates on average, and approximately two-thirds of the teachers who leave the teaching profession do so before retirement age and do so because of lack of job satisfaction.

“Attracting and retaining highly qualified teachers is a challenge here in Southwest Virginia, particularly in the critical areas of science, mathematics, technology, and career and technical education. The REST Act will provide the resources needed to continue recruit and retain a highly qualified workforce, and address these challenges facing our rural communities,” Tom Brewster, Associate Professor, School of Education at Bluefield College, Director of External Affairs for Communities in Schools of Virginia.

“Teaching in a rural, economically disadvantaged area has many emotional and moral rewards—which is why I became a teacher. However, teaching in an area such as this has not afforded me with many economic opportunities.  I have been paying my student loans since I graduated, but since my pay has increased only slightly in the past nine years, I haven’t been able to pay them off. If I didn’t have that student loan bill to pay each month, I would be able to perhaps buy a dependable car, think about buying a house, or even furthering my education with an advanced degree, yet, at this point, that’s not a fiscal possibility,” said Rachelle Jessee, a teacher at Pulaski County High School. “I did not become a teacher for the wealth or fame, of course, but I do feel that teachers in rural areas should be rewarded somehow for their time and effort—not having that burden of student loan payments each month would allow for more monetary and life opportunities.”

“Recruiting the best possible teachers to rural areas is critical to developing a diversified workforce as communities attempt to attract new businesses and industry. Incentivizing great teachers to work in rural areas will have impacts not only on education, but on our economy as well. I also appreciate the wording that includes administrators. Currently, loan forgiveness programs only encourage teachers to teach in high poverty areas. However, principals and other administrators are also critical for the success of rural and challenged schools,” said Keith Perrigan, Superintendent of Bristol Virginia Public Schools.

The REST Act would provide scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students pursuing degrees in education or school administration who contract with rural schools for at least three years to cover tuition, fees, books, and a living stipend.  Under the legislation, educators who work in a rural school for five years can apply for up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness. Additionally, educators in rural schools can receive funding to cover the costs of National Board Certification and their schools can receive funding to provide them with a $5,000 - $10,000 salary increase.

The bill is supported by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE), the National Education Association (NEA), the National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE), the National School Boards Association (NSBA), and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).