U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer took aim at Trump administration policies that he said will leave the Rochester area without enough teachers.
A growing shortage of specialized teachers for subjects like foreign languages, sciences and technical courses is resulting in unfilled teaching positions in Rochester and the Finger Lakes, Schumer said at a press conference on Thursday.
“As more teachers retire, the demand for new teachers is spiking at a rate we’re not able to keep up with right now,” said Schumer.
He proposed a “two-pronged plan” to address the shortage.
First, keep federal funding for teacher recruitment and retention, which the Trump administration has proposed cutting. Second, he wants to expand loan forgiveness programs for public school teachers.
Schumer said the Federal Government allocated money for those programs that the administration is not spending.
“We put three and a half billion dollars into it for over a period of years. And [Education] Secretary [Betsy] DeVos, who really, everyone knows this, is anti-public education, has spent 1% of it and wants to cut it back,” Schumer said.
In an email, education department press secretary Angela Morabito said the high rate of denials of loan forgiveness applications was caused by Congress, "not by accident or failed implementation by the Department."
The education department is "fulfilling its duty to faithfully execute the program designed by Congress," Morabito said, pointing to weekly emails and online tools to help people navigate the loan forgiveness process.
Without loan forgiveness, teachers face payment burdens that can push them out of the profession, according to Jolene DiBrango, executive vice president of New York State United Teachers, a statewide teachers’ union.
“Loans are definitely a barrier,” DiBrango said. “They are working for years, and years, and years under incredible debt.”
Adam Eck, a physics teacher at Brighton High School, said he would benefit from expanded loan forgiveness. After decades of paying off his student loans, he said, he and his wife, who is also a teacher, still owe more than a hundred thousand dollars.
Eck said his oldest son, who just started his junior year of high school, is already averse to a teaching career.
"I'm talking to him, like 'What do you think you want to do when you grow up?' And unfortunately, he says, 'Well, I know I don't want to be a teacher, because I don't want to live in that financial world that you live in,' " Eck said.