Education Committee previews its legislative agenda for new session

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By Pamela Pritt Register-Herald Reporter   

The Senate Education Committee plans to introduce legislation to help students on health profession tracks to obtain student loans and to practice in the state, particularly in underserved areas.

The health sciences service program continues a revolving fund account from which students can borrow funds for their educations and then be forgiven each year of loans in exchange for a year of service in the state.

Preference is given to in-state students, but the bill proposes that recipients may also be fourth-year students at any of the state's medical schools, or enrolled in a state institution seeking a degree or certificate in a variety of nursing programs, physicians assistant programs, physical therapist programs, doctoral clinical psychologist programs or as a licensed clinical social worker.

Applicants for the funds will sign an agreement to practice for two years in an underserved area of the state. Medical and dental students would be able to borrow at least $20,000, while all students in all other fields could borrow at least $10,000. According to the proposed bill, the Higher Education Policy Commission will set loan amounts.

Award recipients who fail to practice in the state's underserved areas within six months of training completion would be liable for repaying the program award and any accrued interest, the proposed bill says.

The Senate Education Committee will also introduce legislation to decrease the state’s dropout rate through “Local Solution Dropout Prevention and Recovery Innovation Zones” which would target school districts that had achieved less than a 90 percent graduation rate.

The proposed bill would allow school districts to engage individuals and community organizations to be involved in the dropout recovery plan. Juvenile probation officers could also be hired by the circuit courts under the proposed bill, which would also require county boards of education to pay the costs. The board could, in turn, be reimbursed for half the cost of the officer’s salary, benefits and travel.