Posted in: Moving in Congress
Student loan interest increase averted, rural ed funding preserved
by Mary Ellen Flannery/photo courtesy of Campus Progress
A bipartisan agreement to freeze student-loan interest rates passed Congress today, June 29, after more than 50,000 NEA educators, parents, and students reached out to their lawmakers via NEA’s Legislative Action Center.
Without action, interest rates on some federal student loans would have doubled Sunday from 3.4 to 6.8 percent, costing the average borrower an additional $1,000 a year. But, as student loan debt has skyrocketed in recent years, and the average graduate leaves college with more than 25,000 in student loan debt, concerned citizens have rallied these past months to say, “Enough is enough!”
“This timely Congressional action is an affirmation of our belief that a college education shouldn’t be a privilege to some but a right to all who want to achieve the American dream,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who pointed out that about 7.5 million Americans rely on these low-interest loans to be able to attend college and access the American Dream.
Today’s deal, which President Obama is expected to sign into law tomorrow, also extends the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act for another year, essentially guaranteeing about $346 million to save education jobs in 700 rural counties and 41 states.
“Educators are especially pleased with the extension of the Secure Rural Schools act, which comes at a time when rural school districts are strapped for cash and are contemplating laying off teachers, bus drivers, and other school personnel,” continued Van Roekel. “The one-year extension stems the tide of layoffs, allowing educators in rural schools to breathe easier and continue focusing on providing children with a great, high-quality education.”
The push to prevent the scheduled doubling of student loan interest rates has been building for months now, especially as Democratic-led efforts to freeze those rates were repeatedly blocked by Congressional Republicans. But worried students, parents, and educators repeatedly rallied for action: signing petitions, and emailing and calling their members of Congress.
“I don’t mind paying my fair share, but why are we doing nothing to make college accessible for decent, hard-working people who are just trying to better their lives and make a contribution?” asked Joanne Anderholm, a Massachusetts kindergarten teacher who pays $550 a month—or fully 45 percent of her income—on student loan repayments. “How can I live on 50 percent of a teacher’s salary? How can I help my kids go to college? How can I save for my retirement?” she asked.
Increasing the student-loan interest rates, noted Florida school psychologist Krista Hillman, “will simply make college an impossibility for most young people today. Our society is crumbling and this is just one more nail in the coffin for our future generations.”
In order to fund the lower-interest rates, Congress is relying mostly on changes in the companies calculate their pension costs, and also on a new measure to limit Stafford loans to six years for undergraduates. “We believe that it would be more appropriate and less harmful to… (close) tax loopholes that allow large corporations to avoid contributing their fair share to their communities and our nation,” Van Roekel said. “We strongly urge Congress to look for ways to meet such pressing national needs by ensuring that corporations pay their fair share of taxes.”
Click here to sign the petition to help close corporate tax loopholes.
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