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State offers teacher loan repayment program

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Teachers with outstanding student debt may be eligible to receive $6,000 a year from the Teacher Loan Repayment Program administered by the New Mexico Higher Education Department, according to an announcement issued Wednesday.

“There are a variety of state scholarship and financial aid programs that have become available to educators in recent years, but there are some who entered the profession prior to these opportunities being available,” Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said. “With the Teacher Loan Repayment Program, these teachers can have their debt reduced or even eliminated, and enable more educators to pursue teaching in high-need areas across the state.”

More than 300 educators a year are already supported, and the New Mexico Higher Education Department is accepting new applications and renewals for the upcoming year. The application closes on Aug. 1 at 5 p.m.

“This administration has done so much to improve the educator ecosystem and give classroom teachers the respect and support they deserve. This loan repayment program is another way we are encouraging the best and brightest teachers to serve in high-needs areas while paying down their student loans. This program is a win-win for all of New Mexico,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart said.

Recipients must agree to a two-year teaching commitment and can receive up to $6,000 a year toward their existing student loan debt, including interest and the principal balance. The award can be renewed for additional two-year cycles if the recipient continues to fulfill the teaching commitment. Preference is given to teachers who graduate from a New Mexico college or university and to minority teachers.

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Eligible teachers must be U.S. citizens, New Mexico residents for 12 or more consecutive months, hold a New Mexico teaching license, and have taught at least three years in New Mexico. They must teach in a high-need positions such as bilingual education; early childhood education; special education; science, technology, engineering or math (STEM); or career technical education (CTE). They also are eligible if teaching in a low-performing school serving economically disadvantaged populations (40% or more of students receiving free and reduced lunch).

“New Mexico’s efforts to encourage new educators and support veteran educators through its loan repayment programs is one of many successful initiatives enacted in recent years which seek to attract and retain highly qualified educators in our classrooms and all areas of public education. We have long supported this initiative, and we look forward to deepening our partnership with New Mexico’s Higher Education Department to not only continue to advocate for these critical efforts, but also implement new programs to help fully staff our classrooms and places of learning at every level,” said Whitney Holland, president of the American Federation of Teachers of New Mexico.

Heather Nevarez is a graduate of New Mexico State University and a veteran teacher of 25 years who teaches sixth-grade math for Las Cruces Public Schools and is benefitting from the program.

“My loans were taken out prior to 1998 when a lot of the scholarship and forgiveness programs were enacted, so all these years I have been paying on them. When this opportunity came up, it really helped me, and now I can retire without student loan debt,” Nevarez said.

Mandi Vasquez is a national board-certified bilingual education teacher who teaches 1st grade at Vado Elementary School. She began benefitting from the program last year. She received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in teaching from New Mexico State University.

“I got my undergraduate degree before the Lottery Scholarship, and I was not eligible for federal grants, so I had to pay for most of my schooling with student loans. It was wonderful to see how much my balance went down. Otherwise, it would have taken me years to pay off,” Vasquez said.

The New Mexico Higher Education Department also oversees other programs to provide financial assistance to current or aspiring educators. They include the Grow Your Own Teachers and Teacher Preparation Affordability Scholarships and the Teacher Loan-for-Service Program.

More information is available on the Higher Education website, hed.state.nm.us.