Public Service Loan Forgiveness thrust into peril by Trump-DeVos budget

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Ashley Muscarella, NEA’s Student Program Chair, speaks at the PSLF (Public Service Loan Forgiveness) Caucus Briefing. Photo by Patrick G. Ryan

By Mary Ellen Flannery

Greg Cechak is a 31-year-old sixth-grade teacher in Pennsylvania, who owes about $80,000 for his state university education. He and his wife, another public school teacher, also are the parents of two small children, who he worries he’ll never be able to send to college because he’ll still be paying off his own student loans.

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The light on the horizon for the Cechak family—and more than 600,000 additional teachers, firefighters, and public-service employees—is the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which hopefully will erase the majority of his federal student loan debt after Cechak has paid 120 on-time monthly loan payments.

This week marks the 10-year anniversary of PSLF, but the program recently has been thrust into peril by the Trump-DeVos proposed budget, which would eliminate PSLF. In response, a congressional caucus dedicated to protecting PSLF was formed this fall by two Pennsylvania Representatives —U.S. Rep. Brendan Boyle and U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, and thousands of NEA members have called on Congress to protect PSLF.

“We can’t stand by and let the burdens of student loan debt prevent Americans from pursing these tremendously important careers in service to their communities—careers that often pay far less than their worth to society,” Boyle and Costello wrote in The Hill this week.

Greg Cechak and family

This is a two-way deal that was made to teachers and other public-service workers, Cechak notes. For years, Cechak has held up his end, throwing his heart into his classroom and coaching work, and faithfully making income-based payments on his federal loans. “I’m asking the government to hold up their end of the bargain,” he says.

Thousands of NEA members are asking the same. Add your voice to theirs.

On Tuesday, legislative aides attended a Capitol Hill policy briefing on the issue. NEA Student Program Chair Ashley Muscarella spoke, telling them about the impact of PSLF on Millennial teachers, who have taken on debt and sacrificed potential earnings to fulfill their passion for education. “After 10 years in the classroom, I don’t want to to have to think about leaving the classroom to start a new career so that I can afford to buy a house and have my own children,” she said.

The average student loan borrower in the U.S. graduates from college with more than $30,000 in student debt, and at least 25 percent of master’s degree and Ph.D. students leave with more than $100,000. At these levels, student debt is, at best, a source of stress for young teachers, Muscarella said. At worst, it’s a reason to leave the profession.

“If we do not preserve this program, we will lose remarkable teachers who have to no choice but to walk away from the classroom and their dreams,” Muscarella warned.

Cechak is one of those teachers who worries that his career choice is untenable. “With the cost of college tuition today, these types of programs are the only way you’re going to keep public education alive,” he says. “There needs to be incentives for people to become teachers, and we know it’s not going to be the salary.”

His hope is that, after the balance of his loans is forgiven through PSLF, he and his wife will be able to take the hundreds of dollars they spend every month on student loan payments and put it aside for their children’s college education.

“There’s your reward after all your hard work,” he says.

Reader Comments

  1. Since teachers are underpaid for the work they do, and because many criticize them for becoming teachers in the first place, I say teachers should leave. Let people teach their own kids…It is not like they aren’t making payments on their debts–they pay for ten years, and the debts were inflated by interest. The public service loan program gives them a bit of an even playing field…teachers make about 30,000 less a year than someone in the business world with their education level. Teaching is not sitting on your butt–teaching is dealing with 120 to 150 middle school or high school students a day, trying to teach them skills and information to help them later in life, teaching is spending an hour or more a day preparing lessons and materials; teaching is taking home things to grade…like 150 one page essays to correct and comment upon, or 150 notebooks to check….by the way, for the essays, we are talking 5-10 minutes per essay at a minimum….anyone want to spend an extra 1500 minutes doing something they won’t get paid extra for? How about spending six hours grading notebooks? Teaching is not like a straight nine to five (or 7 to 3) job. It can be a 24-7 one. So someone decides to go into teaching and racks up debt–they go for their Master’s because they want to be even more skilled…and they end up in a hard job making sucky pay…the PS loan forgiveness program might be the thing to keep them in the classroom. So–someone complained about tax payers paying off teacher loans after ten years…okay, if that is a bother, lets pay teachers babysitter wages….pay them ten dollars an hour per kid they work with….those 150 kids a day, each for an hour (30 kids an hour in 5 hour long classes…) Pay teachers 1500 a day (cheap babysitter wages, right?) and then they’ll pay their loans without hardship. Keep in mind that the loan may have been only for 20,000 but after interest the thing could grow to far more than that.

  2. If the government would abandon PSLF for new comers, then these new comers will have to decide whether or not they are going to study for the teaching profession. We may have a greater short fall of educators in the future, but that’s the choice the government is willing to take. So be it. It is however absolutely unacceptable that the PSLF would go away for existing people. They signed up and are now paying off, month by month until the 120 months are over. The government can’t be taken serious as a partner for anything anymore if they now back out and leave those folks in the dark.

  3. Aawwwwwwwwe…
    I am SO bummed!

    I did not take out a SINGLE loan for my education! parents paid for only half of my undergrad and I paid for BOTH of my Master’s degrees out of my own pocket ….on a teacher’s pay!

    How on earth did I do that u ask?

    COMMUNITY college.
    I lived within my means.
    Drove a 15 year old car that I had to maintain.
    Lived at home.
    …and had to take 6 years to earn my undergrad!

    Where there is a will, there is a way. WE as educators need to educate and steer students in/for wise (financial) decisions. ….almost like do NOT go into education, CERTIANLY do not assume 40 grand of debt for it!

    psssst. this is a LIFE skill!

  4. MarineBob:
    Many did have a plan: PSLF. Many would say it is a very serious plan/investment on the part of the student borrowers as they are essentially agreeing to perform 10 years of public service and forego higher wages. By design the program will never reward someone who racks up high student loan debt and then just sits on their butt for 10 years.

    Are/were you a marine? It is similar to the government promises offered to service members (GI Bill, student loan forgiveness plans, military pension and lifetime benefits). Most sign up for the military induced by some representations offered by the government. If the government suddenly took away the military pension and veteran benefits, would you comment that those veterans and service members “should have had a plan”? Would you lament that they should have taken courses before participating in a government created program?

  5. No … according to DACA supporters only “Dreamers”are entitled to loan forgiveness! What percentage of students feel entitled to loan forgiveness? And from whom are we getting the statistics you casually state…. liberal newspapers and organizations?

  6. It would seem that those who leave college with extraordinary debts and then enter a low paying occupational field ought to have thought about that before incurring their legally accepted loans. It is unreasonable to think that taxpayers would have to essentially pay for loans that were legally taken on by people who did not practice due diligence when they signed for the loan.

    Those who go on beyond bachelor degrees and take tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars of loans, not having a plan to pay for them would appear to be poor candidates for those advanced degrees. Perhaps a required course or two in financial management, personal finance, and individual accountability might be in order before anyone can sign for loans exceeding a few thousand dollars. Also there needs to be a defined plan of how loaners, lenders and everyone else involved will react if the payment schedule is not followed.

    1. It’s so discouraging to realize how little we value and appreciate the sacrifices made by public service professionals such as teachers and other helping professionals. It’s this type of egocentric mentality that is ruining this nation.

    2. Oklahoma case in point.Teachers leaving by the droves because they aren’t paid decently. That’s the result of teaching in a state that doesn’t value their educators or students. But billionaires don’t understand that as a teacher I usually spent $500 plus the first payday of school to buy toilet paper, tissues, sanitary napkins, hand sanitizer, notebooks, pens, pencils, and other school supplies for my students because the public school didn’t have the money, nor did the parents in my very poor school district. The students hated to leave school on Fridays because they knew there would be no food until Monday.In the winter it was coats, hats, and gloves. I saw many younger students coming to school in the winter in t-shirts. I taught in the real world, not in the rarified privileged private schools because I loved my kids, and I loved teaching no matter what the personal monetary cost because of the moral reward I received by teaching. My efforts will last generations and made a difference in my student’s lives.

    3. Golly gee does that mean I should have been a bankrupt real estate investor or a stockbroker instead of a math teacher. How could I be so stupid and yet so smart in mathematics. Oh well in my next life I’ll be a real estate billionaire mogul instead of a teacher. Can’t wait. Yummmy.

    4. It’s really amazing how some of my friends who are vets and have so little understanding of the difficulty teachers and educators jobs are and how much we also sacrifice for the next generations of Americans. If Devos and her wrecking crew achieve their wrongminded goals, we will all suffer for it. We already have a teacher shortage in this country and it’s getting worse. Many young people are chosing not to go into education because of loss of benefits and static pay. Most of the teachers in my area have not had a cost of living raise in 10 years. Mr. Marine, you probably don’t remember the 60’s and 70’s when service men were scorned and called baby killers. I lived it and it was horrible and unfair. You are enjoying “hero” status today; good for you. Teachers are the dogs now. We are stupid for chosing to go into debt so we can help children. It doesn’t feel good. Educators are heroes too but we don’t get any credit. Why don’t you volunteer to be a substitute teacher and see how difficult it really is. I bet you’d change your tune about educators. In fact, where would you, your children, or grand children be if they had to go to substandard schools with teachers who have no credential, just warm bodies to baby sit them. Sound impossible but it’s coming soon to a district near you. I have a friend who is a retired Navy chief. He’s declared bankruptcy twice because of poor financial decisions but because he’s exmilitary. He can get a loan without paying any penalty for his poor decisions costing others thousands of dollars. In conclusion, why don’t you worry about the taxes we have lost and continue to lose because the rich think it’s smart to avoid paying their fair share. Give us a break. We do it for you.

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