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Column One: Teachers

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New Jersey lawmakers thought in 1985 that they were lending a helping hand to people who wanted to be teachers. To some folks this year, though, it has turned out to be more like a slap in the face.

One-fourth of the 1990 graduates who participated in a loan-forgiveness program and were ready to teach have found themselves saddled with unanticipated debts as high as $68,000 because they cannot find a full-time teaching post.

Under the program, students with good academic records could borrow up to $30,000 to attend the college of their choice. For every year they teach in a New Jersey public school, The state would forgive $5,000, or $7,500 if the school is an urban one. Out of the 64 students who were seeking teaching posts this year, 48 found jobs; 16 continue to look.

Although admissions to the program have been suspended, 580 students are in the pipeline. State officials attribute the situation to a vanishing teacher )shortage and a soft economy.

"The loans hit people who couldn't go through college without them,'' said Ann Hansen, program administrator for the state education department. She said some if the graduates have reported that they would have attended less expensive institutions had they known of their pending indebtedness. The state, which has offered a one-year payment deferral, is weighing such options as forgiving loans for teaching in private schools or institutional settings.

With their perennial shortages, - Florida schools probably wish they could have those New Jersey teachers who are looking for work. As it is, the Persian Gulf War buildup has stalled a teacher-recruitment program by the military and the Florida Department of Education aimed at attracting personnel involuntarily cut from the armed forces. (See Education Week, Aug. 1, 1990.)

Once the Department of Defense renews its downsizing efforts, Florida officials say, the program will gain momentum. "The floodgates are going to open up here in a matter of months," predicted Jim Pirius, director of the project.

To encourage veterans to go into teaching, among other public-service fields, the legislature is considering a $20 "Patriot" license plate to set up a scholarship fund for residents and Florida-based personnel who served in the Gulf.

Many people, it seems, think it is not much of a leap from the sands of the Gulf to the classrooms of the nation's schools.

Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, wants the federal government to provide financial aid to returning soldiers as an incentive for them to go into teaching.--K.D.

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