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By Orrin G. Hatch and Sen. Mark Warner
May 6, 2016
IDEAS
Hatch is a Republican Senator from Utah in the U.S. Congress.
Warner is a Democratic U.S. Senator for Virginia

Teachers touch lives and transform communities by helping children realize their full potential. We believe America’s educators deserve greater recognition and support for their service, which is why we are joining millions of families across the country in commemorating National Teacher Appreciation Week. This week, and throughout the year, we can show teachers our appreciation by ensuring that they have the resources they need to succeed—both in life and in the classroom.

To that end, we have spearheaded efforts in Congress to bolster the teaching profession. Just last summer, we introduced the Teacher Loan Repayment Act (TELORA), a bipartisan bill that will make it easier for teachers to pay off their student loans. Our legislation improves loan forgiveness options for educators in several important ways:

First, it provides teachers entering high-needs schools with a monthly loan repayment that continues for up to six years, or for the length of the teacher’s employment. This monthly loan repayment increases each year an educator spends teaching—from $250 in years one and two up to $400 by years five and six. By increasing repayment amounts over time, we can incentivize and reward teachers who choose to stay in the classroom. This reform will help our most promising educators supplement their often paltry paychecks and alleviate the burden of student debt.

Second, our bill removes the current patchwork of wasteful loan assistance programs and replaces the current mess with one streamlined process that results in a single monthly sum for teachers. This periodic lump sum not only supplements a teacher’s pay in the cash-strapped period after graduation; it also eliminates much of the complexity, uncertainty, and delay that plagues existing loan forgiveness options. The promise of consistent and immediate loan assistance will also benefit students by encouraging more talented teachers to stay in the classroom. Ultimately, this reform will improve our schools and address the needs of students and teachers alike. Leveraging education dollars to attract, support, and retain high-quality teachers is an investment that will yield meaningful returns for decades to come.

In addition to reforming the loan repayment process, we must also increase professional development opportunities for educators. The first few years in the classroom can be overwhelming for many teachers, but we can support them by using valuable federal resources to expand access to education training programs. With this goal in mind, we helped author the Elevating Educator Preparation through Innovation Act. This bill allows schools in high-needs districts the ability to partner with a broader range of organizations to provide more professional development opportunities for educators and help prepare them for a career in the classroom. In short, this proposal ensures that teachers have greater access to the resources they need to thrive in their professions and inspire a new generation of Americans.

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which passed Congress last fall, also strengthens teacher training programs by allowing schools to use limited federal dollars to fund professional development opportunities for teachers of every subject—not just the “core academic subjects” outlined in No Child Left Behind. ESSA represents a massive education overhaul that scraps the unworkable, outdated, and overbearing policies of No Child Left Behind by returning decision-making power to the states. Perhaps most importantly, this reform eliminates many of the onerous waiver requirements surrounding teacher evaluations, allowing educators greater flexibility to tailor their instruction to the needs of individual students. Utah’s education leaders—not distant Washington bureaucrats—are best equipped to help our teachers flourish. These reforms will aid state policymakers in that endeavor.

Educators expend significant time and emotional energy helping our children succeed. We should repay this vital service by investing in teachers to ensure they are able to develop professionally. This is just one of many ways we can show teachers our appreciation.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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