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Nonprofit Iowa Student Loan Offers Teacher 'Signing Bonus'

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CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - A first-year teacher has a long list of financial needs school supplies, rent, car payments and professional clothing being just a few.

But for teachers in certain subjects, that burden just got lighter.

Iowa Student Loan, a non-profit, private loan group, is offering a $2,000 "signing bonus" grant to first-year Iowa teachers hired to fill positions in subjects with teacher shortages.

Shortage areas, as defined by the Iowa Department of Education, include math, science, English language learning, talented and gifted learning, music, agriculture, family and consumer science, foreign languages, industrial arts and special education.

The grant will help fill areas being vacated by older teachers, according to Jefferson High School Principal Chuck McDonnell, who spoke in support of the program Friday at the school.

"We're going to have a lot of retirement in these areas coming up and it's only going to get worse," he said.

The grant replaces Iowa Student Loan's teacher loan forgiveness program.

Teachers will receive the grant in the form of a check, and can spend it on any expense, personal or professional. Fourth-year math teacher Laura Eklund described some of the financial obstacles she faced when starting out her teaching career.

"I went a full month teaching before I got my first paycheck, while also getting my first classroom ready," she said. "It was a real struggle."

Second-year science teacher Amy Smith said having this bonus her first year could have made a huge difference.

"Some people probably don't think that's a lot of money, but that's an amazing amount when you're starting out," she said.

Cedar Rapids City Council member Kris Gulick and Rep. Dave Loebsack also spoke in support of the program.

"There's no doubt that we're facing a severe teacher shortage in Iowa and across the nation," Loebsack said.

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