Opinion: Keep loan-forgiveness promises to educators

Paula Herbart

Stefanie Sedlar was forced to put her plans to start a family on hold to pay off nearly $100,000 in student loan debt.

A special education teacher for Mount Pleasant Public Schools, Sedlar is one of countless dedicated teachers and other public school employees who start their careers swimming in student loan debt.

Like many teachers across the country, Sedlar was promised that a large chunk of her federal loan debt would be forgiven through a program recruiting educators into high-needs schools. Such programs help attract the brightest and best teachers to our classrooms to prepare our kids for success.

The Trump Administration should follow through on promises made to forgive student loans, writes Herbart.

Sedlar overcame reservations about entering the teaching profession by the prospect of student loan forgiveness. But so far, promises to forgive her debt haven’t been kept, and she feels it every month when she balances her checkbook.

Due to a lack of leadership at the federal level, her story is becoming far too common.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has broken promises made to forgive student loans. Under DeVos, 99% of applications to the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program were denied from May 2018 through May 2019, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

America needs leadership from the White House and Department of Education to help turn around the teacher shortage and ensure every student has quality educators. Instead, we’re getting bureaucratic red tape that sides with for-profit lenders over hard-working educators.

Recently, a federal judge fined DeVos $100,000 and threatened her with jail time for violating a court order to stop collecting loan payments from students who attended the fraudulent Corinthian Colleges. She continued collecting the loan payments even after Corinthian’s lies were revealed and the colleges closed as a result.

The Trump administration continues to disregard the well-being of educators tasked with preparing our kids for college and the competitive global workforce. That only makes matters worse for those struggling with skyrocketing college costs and loan balances.

Student loan debt averaged $32,000 among loan borrowers who graduated in 2017 from Michigan’s public universities — the eighth-highest student loan debt in the country that year, according to a recent Century Foundation study. That’s a 43% increase in student loan debt in Michigan since 2000.

For new educators, that means high monthly loan payments mixed with low starting take home pay. Hitting their pocketbooks as they are called on to provide a 21st century education to our kids adds insult to a growing list of injuries.

Morale among educators is already at an all-time low in our state as lawmakers have passed testing, evaluation and other measures aimed at demoralizing our teachers, most of whom continually do more with less.

All this feeds an epidemic of teachers leaving the profession due to low pay and disrespect from those who have never stepped foot into a classroom — and starving the supply of potential new educators to replace them.

The very least we can do is make good on loan forgiveness promises for these individuals who are so critical to the future of both Michigan’s students and continued economic resurgence.

Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers Acting President Rory Gamble, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.