Future educator testifies about student loan debt on Capitol Hill


by Colleen Flaherty

Update: While Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s student loan refinance bill did not pass Wednesday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order on Monday to cap student loan payments based on income, introduce loan forgiveness after 20 years and a series of other actions around higher education to address access and affordability.

Ever since the second grade, Brittany Jones knew exactly what she wanted to do – become a second grade teacher. She has earned her undergraduate degree in teaching and has been accepted into a Master’s program that will help her achieve that dream.

Unfortunately, with all of her accomplishments, she is also $70,000 in debt from student loans.

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On behalf of herself and 40 million Americans who are also struggling with student loan debt, Jones shared her story in a hearing before the Senate Budget Committee.

“I think everyone should have the opportunity to pursue their dream,” said Jones. “If I can help by speaking about my student loan debt, then I will.”

Currently, student loan debt accounts for more than $1 trillion dollars in this country, and more than 70 percent of students need to borrow money to attend school. When testifying, Jones shared how her growing debt nearly got in the way of her future career.

When she finished her undergraduate degree and realized the staggering amount of debt she accumulated, she realized she couldn’t finished her teaching program, which required an additional year.

“When confronted with the decision to borrow another $20,000 dollars to complete my program, I decided it was best to postpone attendance,” said Jones.

After she left school, she found a job teaching at a preschool.

“I was excited to have a position, despite the low wage of $10 an hour, because unlike many of my colleagues, I was working in my desired field,” said Jones. “I was the lead teacher in my own class. I was elated! That is until the loan statements started to come.”


Over the next couple of years, she struggled to keep up with payments, sometimes working as many as three jobs to keep up. Now, two years later, she has been fortunate enough to be accepted into a Master’s program in Colorado where they will recoup the costs of her graduate degree. While she’s grateful for the opportunity, her problems haven’t gone away just yet.

“Almost $50,000 still awaits repayment. Student loan debt has been the driving force of my decisions for the last eight years of my life, and according to my current repayment plan, it is projected to be for the next 25 years of my life, well into the years for which I should be planning a retirement. It should not be that way.”

While Jones is worried about her debt, she is also worried about the future of her profession. “We’re losing potentially great teachers when they can’t afford their education,” said Jones.

As the president of the Student Education Program in Virginia, she had many classmates whose dreams of becoming a classroom teacher fell short thanks to debt.

I was like many of the students I encountered facing the difficult decision of whether to continue my education and follow my dream of being a teacher, or seek immediate employment. I recall one student who, having borrowed the maximum amount of student loans allowed for one school year, was unable to fill the gap in his cost of attendance. He later withdrew from the university and never returned. Another student, who, ironically served as our chapter treasurer, also left school for financial reasons. A full-time student in the master’s program, she also had a job in sales, and was offered the position of store manager. Faced with the decision of incurring more student loan debt, she decided becoming a teacher was no longer the career path she could follow.

Recently, Sen. Elizabeth Warren introduced a commonsense bill to help those who currently hold student loan debt by allowing them to refinance their loans at a lower rate. Jones supports Warren’s bill, as she would be able to save thousands.

Despite all the challenges that Jones has faced, she is still determined to teach.

“Ultimately, every decision I’ve made as far as becoming a teacher has been driven by the students. I love seeing kids grow, explore and learn about the world,” said Jones. “That’s why I continue to push, and I’m going to continue to do everything I can to become the teacher that I think they deserve.”

Reader Comments

  1. I completely agree that student loans are a bad trap, but I’d love to know how the interest on these loans are calculated and credited. Something isn’t right. I’m seeing everyone throw out outrageous numbers. Didn’t anyone major in math or learn how to plug numbers into an amortization spreadsheet template?

  2. I am not asking for a handout. But when I – a teen mom- first in my family to graduate high school- first in my family to go to college- grew up with welfare and food stamps and gov assistance on housing- went to college I had to get loans. No other way. The loans were at like 2.6%. Not bad! Borrowed only what I needed to live and pay for school. Graduated with honors went to work teaching jr hi math paid loans on time. Fast forward to grad school – completed the program in 2 years again borrowing only what I needed – the loans are at 6.9%! I have a credit score of about 750 and my car loans are not that high. I would love to refinance ….

  3. Since when do you need a masters to teach 2nd grade? She should of went to work, paid off her student loan, and then pursued getting a masters, because that is reasonable.

    I agree with the others who said everything can’t be handed to you. Some teachers don’t get paid well, but they must know that education is a business. Look for a different profession. Join the military, the GI BILL is amazing.

    1. Many states require a Master’s Degree be acquired within a certain number of years teaching. All states require continuing education to re-certify and get a new licence. In Ohio it is every five years.

  4. Folks, it’s not the interest rates that’s the real problem, although the higher that is the harder it is to pay off the loan, of course. The REAL problem is that the cost of a college education has ballooned outrageously in the last 20 years. It has far outpaced the rate of inflation and the cost of anything else in the US – even the cost of healthcare, I believe – but nothing much seems to be said about THAT because private colleges can do whatever they want, for the most part. Public universities are funded through state governments and those have been severely pinched by the recession, so their budgets have been slashed, and where can they turn for funds? Higher tuition. Until and unless this country values education the way it SAYS it does and subsidizes higher education, this will not improve.

  5. The powers that be will eventually allow people with an AA in Education become the standard for becoming a teacher. This will allow the “for profit” forces to win and the population that cannot afford $25K a year to send their child to a private school to lose. We will all lose. The costs and rigor of the current teacher preparation/certification programs (as compared to 1985 when I earned my certificate) are cost and time prohibitive.
    We need to adopt a system that exists in most of Europe, so one can chose a pathway to a profession, instead of a “one system fits all” which is doomed to fail.
    WAKE UP!

  6. I’m a teacher who has incurred a large amount of debt to obtain my Masters Degree (I have to have a Masters degree in my state to be considered Highly Qualified a requirement). All total I owe 80k for 5 years of college. I started out making 34,00O. If we didn’t have my husbands income there is no way I could afford to teach and make all my bills including my student loan payment of 548.00 a month. I’m not asking g for anyone to pay my way. However….when I hear that our government made Trillions on the interest of student loans I feel sick. My own government making money on me! When all I want to do is work hard, pay my taxes, and make a difference in the lives of children and my country. I should be ashamed? Really?

  7. It’s the private loans that are ridiculous!!! I don’t mind paying them back but the cost is ridiculous!! I’ve paid $20k in interest yet principal goes nowhere!!! After 8 years I’m leaving teaching because owning your own business is a better way to go!!!

    With this being said, none of my kids will EVER think of being a teacher because they know that they will never be able to pay those loans back!!! I certainly can’t afford to help them!!!! Teaching is by far the worst profession I ever encountered!!! Luckily I can go elsewhere to make up for the last 8 years!!!!

    1. I told all three of my children that they would be teachers over my dead body. None of them are. However, I have to wonder who will teach my grandchildren.

    2. Hey Jay, I’d say you’re a D.S. if you think you going to start and run a business without having some kind of loan / line of credit.
      Let us know how “high” your interest rate is on that loan. Bet you’re out of business in 3 years? What kind of business is going to
      make you rich? Should’ve just gone into business right out of H.S. and you’d have Millions by now.

  8. I assumed the responsibility of my son’s college loans. One was bought up by “Discover Student Loans.” The interest rate was 9.75%, a high rate, but not unreasonable since I set up payments that exceeded the minimum monthly payment. I have, admittedly not been paying attention to the status of the loan until recently, believing that my 28 monthly payments were putting a dent in it. Yesterday (Friday evening), I looked into the account, and saw that the original loan of $9,000 had mushroomed into a balance of $10,996.97 – AFTER PAYING ABOUT $3,000 toward the loan!!! This has GOT TO BE ILLEGAL! I will be contacting my Congressional Representatives and whomever else will listen about this on Monday, when they return to “work.”

  9. I think the kids today need to learn the financial system and understand checks and balances. We all want the best education for our children. However, the Children today need to understand that if you or your family do not have the resources to pay for school, than you need to apply for loans to help fund. You need to also understand that THEY NEED TO BE PAID BACK! That is how the system Works. YOU GET NOTHING FOR NOTHING! Make Sense! It is Unfortunate that some have to Cry about everything for the sake of beating a system and trying to get a head without ANY responsibility of paying back what your OBLIGATIONS. This Generation of Hand outs and Blaming others is Pure Pathetic in Nature and a Lack of self respect to do the right thing and GO OUT AND GET IT ON YOUR OWN. Like students in our past history.
    Here something for you, your Union should help you not the government and the American people who make their own way. You should be Ashamed to ask for the money and then want help with repayment when you made the Smart decision to take the loan.
    Maybe you should also be bailed out of your credit card debt that earns 20% because you applied for the card and cant not repay it.
    Blame the Job market on your great Subsidized President for doing nothing to get the job market going the last 6 years.
    Anybody who makes a decision to take loans should know the costs, besides you consider yourself a smart student, and you should be Ashamed to ask for help after knowing the realms of a LOAN!!!

    1. Maybe you should have taken out a loan, studied English language arts, and learned how to use proper grammar, punctuation and sentence structure! Then you could attempt to blame our president for some more of your personal problems.

    2. I don’t think that most people caught in this interest rate craziness are refusing to pay their bills. I don’t think that most people are asking for the amounts of their loans to be forgiven. I think that they would just like the high interest rates to be lowered to something a little more reasonable, given today’s rates, that will help them to make a dent in the principal amount owed, rather than just having everything eaten up by the high interest rates. I really hope that this legislation will also include reducing the interest rates on loans that parents took out to help finance their kids’ educations. Most of the loans that I took out to help my kids are in the 7.5% range. I have never missed a payment, but the balances are still very high. I would sure like the interest rates to be lowered so that I can begin to make a bigger dent in those principal amount balances. I am a teacher in Arizona, and we don’t make the same kind of money that teachers the eastern states make, even with 20 and 30 years of tenure. For example, my sister-in-law in Ohio earns $60,000 a year with a M.Ed. and in Arizona I make $47,500 with a M.Ed. That kind of salary difference makes it even harder to pay these loans off. I sure hope that Congress does the right thing for us all on this vote and lowers these interest rates so that higher education can become more affordable. Doing so would be good for the economy in a lot of ways, and would help to restore a little faith in our Representatives. So many issues point to the fact that most of the members of Congress are in the back pockets of the powerful banks and others. It will be interesting to see if our Representatives do the right thing and lower these interest rates.

    3. Thank you. I had to get grants, take one class at a time/skip a few semesters before my graduate degree to catch up when money was tight, and pay my loans back.Why should everyone else get breaks? It was bad enough working in a grocery store and having to get my homework done etc. sitting next to people whose education was paid for by voc rehab or something similar because they had a car accident, I paid my own way- I did it. Others can, too. It took 14 years to get my masters, but unlike many others, I earned it. Glad I did it this way. After a few years, once one gets to making a decent salary, and thinking things are good…. then poof… most are replaced by teach for americas or other workers earning 30-35k. I watched a lot of really good,seasoned teachers get put out in favor of a ‘young, new attitude’. The guy couldnt teach, but he balanced the salary budget. The only ones left that know anything are the tough ones that can stand up to being bullied by principals and “coaches” sent to ‘help” (slide you out the door, after their agenda laden “help”. they are put there to get rid of people!!!)Anyone can find fault in a classroom and write up something and get someone out the door eventually.Especially when its their job to evaluate you and they have someone else in mind for the position. DONT BECOME A TEACHER!!!! I was one of the lucky ones, I had to leave to take care if aging relatives. Otherwise I was a marked woman, placed in a school where the admin is FAMOUS for cleaning house. thanks for listening! Pay for Performance is the biggest joke ever, and its not usually a choice.

    4. The problem is that the “haves” can afford college educations while the “have nots” are forced to either forego a college education or borrow money to pay for it. This is exacerbating the achievement gap, reducing the middle class, and in the long-run destroying our economy. If a college education truly is a necessity for financial success and independence it needs to be affordable for everyone. And if it’s not affordable for everyone, it shouldn’t be the only way to get a higher-wage professional job.

    5. @ Get Real- I think you should check your grammar, spelling and capitalization. Perhaps we do need to pay teachers more. Well, at least your teachers!

  10. I’m completing my 25th year of teaching, & have approximately $14K in undergraduate loans & $18K in graduate school loans (which I completed 6 years ago). Although I teach in a Hard to Serve School, I am NOT eligible for any loan forgiveness because I had outstanding loans prior to my graduate loans. I’ve made monthly payments & all on time & have a low 3.2% on my undergrad loans, but still will not have them paid off for another 8 years, as I had to refinance them 12 years ago in order to buy my home. My graduate school loans won’t be paid off for another 5 years (a10 year note), as my youngest will be a high school junior. I pay $396 per month for both loans. I finally had to get a new(er ) car last year after driving a 1997 car with 187,000 miles on it..

    Loan consideration for educators and realizing our salaries are already too low to continue ongoing education.. I’m interested in pursuing National Board Certification, but cannot take on ANY additional debt.

    1. Bless you Lisa Z. It’s a shame our profession is the foundation for EVERY career, yet we are some of the most underpaid professionals in our country. It’s amazing how much money we send to other countries to “aid” them, but overlook our own. America, put on your own oxygen mask first before you try to put someone else’s on. Teachers are needed and will be forever; don’t continue to devalue us and insult us with low pay and demands that we ultimately have no control over (STUDENT performance). We far exceed our paid contact hours without compensation. We come out of pocket for supplies constantly and consistently without reimbursement. We have to put up with nonsense by parents, students, school boards, and the public demanding more accountability for student growth, yet we are not provided the tools necessary to achieve growth. Parents are not involved in their child’s education, children don’t want to work hard to achieve, the school boards want scores to increase, and the public sees what the media prints and thinks it’s gospel and speaks poorly of us and our students and districts. I challenge any noneducator, especially state and government policy makers, to step into our shoes for just one week and then tell me how you feel about this profession and the treatment we receive.

      1. I agree wholeheartedly Ingrid! However, even if they did, they wouldn’t admit it because there is no easy solution. Where would the money come from to fund education properly? We are already spending trillions just to stay afloat. The problem here actually doesn’t have anything to do with student loans or interest rates. It has to do with the fact that our profession, the teaching profession, doesn’t get paid enough to justify the money spent on the required education. Doctors, lawyers, accounts, the list goes on, all have to get masters and even doctorates to get a job. But, when they get the job, their compensation, salary, bonuses, etc, more than makes up for the loans they took out to get the education. For teachers the compensation isn’t even close. Starting salary in my state is $30,500, and after six years of eye teaching, I now make $31,000. At that rate, by the time I retire I will make about $37,000. I can’t even think about a Master Degree at that salary. I would never be able to pay off the loan. Parents, students, and especially government officials have to realize that there is no such thing as a free education. Either the government foots the bill and you get a crappy education, the teacher foots the bill and prospective teachers start going into better professions, or parents are going to have to help out. I have students all the time say, “I want to be a teacher when I grow up!” And in my head I am thinking, “No! Find a profession where you are appreciated and well compensated.” You are absolutely right when you say our country, parents and students included, have to start valuing education the way the you say they do!

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