Cancel the student loan debt of teachers with 10 years of public service

NEA is urging Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to cancel the student loan debt of qualified public sector workers on the frontlines of our response to COVID-19—teachers, nurses, and other essential workers serving communities all across America.

Created in 2007, the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) was designed to encourage college graduates to pursue careers in education, health care, firefighting, and other forms of public service. The program promised to wipe away federal student debt after 120 qualifying monthly payments—10 years’ worth of payments.

Instead, under the failed leadership of Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education rejected 98 percent of the PSLF applications filed since 2017, when the first public sector workers became eligible for relief. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg—for every qualified borrower whose application has been rejected, tens of thousands more have been knocked off course or never sought relief.

A letter to Cardona signed by more than a dozen leading public sector unions, including NEA, urges immediate relief for qualified borrowers who already have a decade of public service.

Email Education Secretary Cardona and tell him to provide relief NOW.

41 responses to “Cancel the student loan debt of teachers with 10 years of public service

  1. I have been an educator for 27 years and just got approved for PSLF after applying and being rejected many times. Now my student loan debt is over $100,000 because of interest and it is more than twice the original loan balance. I stopped applying for loan forgiveness but thought I would try one more time last year and was told I have actually eligible for many years and my student loans should have been forgiven by now had I not been denied so many times before.

    6 years ago I had to declare bankruptcy from other huge debts I had and most of my teaching career having a salary that I could barely live on. In the first 5 years of bankruptcy I had to not pay on my student loans but they were still accruing interest and other monetary penalties, so the amount I owe now is astronomical.

    Why did I go into teaching, certainly not for the money!!! I have only taught in low SES schools my entire career and have tried to get loan forgiveness based on that, to be told my loans were too old and that they were consolidated so they would never be eligible to be forgiven. This was about 25 years ago. I joke to people and say that when my state gave teachers incentive pay that the first and only year I qualified for it gave me the extra money I needed to pay a lawyer to help me declare bankruptcy. It really isn’t a joke to me because even after 27 years of teaching I still want to do it and I am very active in my union, NEA and wish salaries reflected the amount of work we actually do.

    We are in a severe Teacher and in my science department alone we have 3 teacher vacancies which have caused 2 of us to have to be 2 teachers. I am giving a long term sub my lesson plans, teaching her how to do my work, grading much of the work she gives her students to do, dealing with her students IEPs, and answering parent questions about why some things are being done the way they are in her class because she is a long term sub. I am getting no extra compensation for this and we have many more teachers doing the same things that I just described. I do all of this for our students because they are suffering the most by not having a full time highly qualified teacher. Many of my students have also told me that they did not have a regular teacher last year either so there are huge learning gaps that are my problem to fill so they can learn the Biology standards for high school. I have experienced many of these issues over my long teaching career but they have been magnified by a factor of 100 since the Pandemic hit us so hard the past few school years. Educators are fed up with the state of public education and we need a fix now!!! Paying for my education would have never been possible without student loans and all I ever wanted to be is a teacher and I thought after bankruptcy my financial burdens would be lifted until I saw how much I now owe on my student loans and I cried. PLEASE HELP US SO WE CAN STAY IN THIS WONDERFUL PROFESSION AND BE HEAR FOR OUR STUDENTS WITHOUT THE WORRY OF CRUSHING STUDENT LOAN DEBT ANYMORE.

    It is past time to enact broad-based student debt cancellation of ALL MONEY THAT EDUCATORS AND OTHER PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS OWE, PERIOD.
    Sincerely, Miss Mac (my teacher identity)

    The right to learn, grow, and thrive should be based on how big we dream and how hard we work—not the size of our bank accounts.

    Higher education is an important way to make our dreams for ourselves and our families a reality. While some transformational investments have been made in higher education programs in the past, private loan servicers have profited from—and mismanaged—federal programs, failing our students.

    The astronomical cost of higher education—even public higher education—traps students in a lifetime of debt.

    It is past time to enact broad-based student debt cancellation of ALL MONEY THAT EDUCATORS AND OTHER PUBLIC SERVICE WORKERS OWE, PERIOD.

  2. I’ve been in education over 20 years and it seems the loans I received to get an advanced degree to help increase my pay and cover these loans will outlive me. I am recently divorced and unable to qualify for a home loan due to this large dept. The interest rates are astronomical and seem to increase my balance. I was making payments over the years, but they seem to increase along with the interest and debt.

  3. Sad but true – my student loan debt will outlive me. When I earned my teacher credentials in the late 1980’s, a decent education at a state school was actually affordable. I managed my 1st degree through work-study jobs, grants (PELL), a few small scholarships and $3,000.00 in Federal Student Loans. It was a struggle to pay off the loans but I managed on a teacher’s salary. Until the unthinkable happened. School shootings at Columbine. Suddenly, working in a school became a life or death proposition. Time to re-think my career choices. After 12 years of scraping by on teacher pay I foolishly thought a high-powered degree from a prestigious school would make me. So I went back & got an expensive MBA paid for by student loans. Graduated just in time for 9/11 and 2 recessions. Eventually took MBA off my resume to get an entry level job in corporate America. Worked my way up to management in a soulless sector. Turned out the trade-off for a livable wage was constant work in a hostile environment and zero quality of life. Then, one day on the job, a customer died in my arms. Time again to rethink my career choices. Life is fleeting – why am I enriching a company that cares so very little for me? Work is necessary. It should also be meaningful. The obvious answer: return to teaching. So I did. Even though the time interval reset my years of experience clock to zero. When I heard about the possibility of loan forgiveness for public service I was hopeful again. I specifically applied for a teaching job in a Title 1 school. Fast forward to now, 8 years later. That promise of relief is still out of reach. Closing in on retirement age but oppressed by educational debt & no retirement savings. Most likely scenario for me is I drop dead in a classroom. How about a break?

  4. I taught school for 13 years, have paid on my student loan since 1995 without being late or missing a payment (long story). I have had 3 student loan servicing companies, first one provided so much misinformation but I followed their instructions, the second one also provided incorrect information and has been sued. I borrowed roughly $39,750.00, paid $35,490.00 in interest and still owe $32,312.00. I have filed 2 complaints, how ever have been told that no wrong doing could be found. I challenge anyone to follow student loan histories. I just would like someone to really listen to my story!

      1. Hi Joseph, I’m a producer at Bloomberg News working on a story about student debt impacting teachers/public educators. I’m specifically looking for retired teachers who are still paying off student debt and was wondering if you might fall into this category. I’d love to connect and learn more about your personal story with student debt and provide more details on what we are working on at Bloomberg surrounding this topic. Please feel free to send me an email if interested. Thanks, Madison


    1. I am a teacher. I still have a huge debt. I don’t know how and when I will be able to pay all my student loans before I died. Please help us.

  5. Teachers in the U.S. endure an expectation to achieve 1-2 Masters degrees or doctorate in order to achieve the top of the pay scale – and then typically only after 20 plus years of service. This is a disproportionate burden laid on teachers with scant reward and many of us spend upward of $100,000 to pay for this continuing education. This is not required in many other professional fields. Canceling student debt is a form of economic mitigation for the purposes of pay equity, and is a fiscally sound action which could spur spending across broad sectors of the economy, including house and car starts (ergo, without the student loan payment, teachers may get into a more reliable car or could afford to put a down payment on a home).

  6. It took me about 15 years to pay off my student loan debt amounting to almost 40,000 , not excluding interest, on a teachers salary. I could have paid it off sooner if I wasn’t spending often hundreds of dollars each year on school supplies and materials which my students needed and my school could not ( or chose to) provide. Some months I was buying my own ink and copy paper because the copy machine continually kept breaking down in school. I applied for the loan forgiveness program twice and was rejected for reasons I still do not understand because I met all the requirements. Anyway I am debt free but I empathize with those educators who are now walking in the path. Even now after our educational system has been pushed to doing remote learning, I am still having to purchase subscriptions and online teaching materials which I don’t expect to be reimbursed so I can adequately address the needs of my students. This is the reality of a teachers life ; it can be a costly career on a public servant salary. So yes I support any and all programs which gives educators back Something in light of all that they will have to put back into their careers to do their jobs effectively.

  7. First of all I suggest you do a search on union Prisident Randi Weingartens lobbying to secure funding for PRIVATE non union teachers as part of the stimulus. Nice way to bust unions wouldn’t you say? Betsy Devous would be proud. Anyway, All college tuition should be covered. How in gods name are what’s left of our middle class supposed to compete? Should be one trillion for tuition alone! A high school diploma hasn’t cut it for 20 years. Funny how Europe can enjoyes lots of things we seem to not be able to afford. We’re the richest country on earth?? Really??

  8. When I was getting my degree there was a National Defense Loan program with similar requirement. It was a great thing and I know that it is needed now that cost has risen so much.

  9. I have a daughter who is an educator and I know for a fact that she has used her own money to buy kids school supplies. I have also helped her buy supplies. These kids are our future and we need educators who care like my daughter. She still has student debt and has worked over 10 years. I am all for this and everyone should be.

  10. As a foster kid I knew higher education would lift me up from poverty and my circumstances. It was not easy affording school while struggling to survive. I can recall times when the dorm closed down and I was basically homeless. Loans helped me to afford, in part my bachelors degree and master degree.

    I have been paying on my loans and I have taught as a special education teacher for over 20 years. NEVER have I been eligible for either the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program nor the (TLF) Teacher Loan Forgiveness program.

    The promise of PSLF has a flawed designed law that states I could not have had a loan prior to 1998. This is what disqualifies me.

    Cancel the student loan debt of qualified public sector workers with a decade or more of experience serving their communities.

  11. I am a public school elementary teacher of 17 years. I am currently paying my student loans, but at this point I would love to have my debt wiped out. I pay so much in interest, that I don’t know when and if I would ever be able to pay off my debt.

  12. Include private loans. Many student loan borrowers took out federal loans that were sold or transferred to private institutions. These should be include in any program to eradicate loans.

  13. I worked in factories to save enough money to pay for my own college education. Why should I now have to work to subsidize others who didn’t work as hard as I did?

    1. That’s great! And – When were you in college? Among other things, I worked the night shift at an automated film processing plant in 1961 to help pay for college and grad school. Between work, scholarships, and some help from my parents (not a lot: I had two younger brothers), I came out with no student debt. Since then, however, the cost of higher education has risen far faster than the rate of inflation, while the wages for entry level jobs have lagged far behind it. Economically, our world is different now. The boost to the economy from cancelling all government-held debt would be huge. So this would benefit far more than individual borrowers. I’m for it.

    2. A perfect example of selfishness and total priveledge. At least you were able to get work in factories. And how do you know they are not working as hard or harder than you? I shudder to think of some of the educators mentality that are in classroom teaching or working with our kids..

    3. Right now the beginning wage in my district is 1,200.00 more than working at Taco Bell for minimum wage. So our work study students are essentially working for the same wage as their teachers.

    4. Ever heard of corporate welfare. Look into the outrageous salaries of CEOs who pay for the kind of propaganda that keeps you repeating the same ignorant memes.

    5. How do you know they didn’t work “as hard as you did”?
      Were you at school with all of them? Are you in the public sector or out making money in the private sector?
      We give away BILLIONS to the wealthy and corporations and you whine about giving teachers a break?!?
      Without teachers, you won’t have anyone to take care of your sorry ass when you get old so grow up, stop being so damn selfish and think about the greater good

    6. Why should we “give” these public service workers something you did not get? We should do this because they are giving us something you were never required to give, i.e. risking their physical and mental health in their work. Did you have to worry about shooters when you went to teach in an elementary, highschool or college class? Did you have to worry that you would catch a terminal illness from your students and leave your children without a parent? Did you have to instantly, drastically, without training, transform the execution of your work from hands on, face-to-face to exclusively online teaching, with any and all ages?!

      Additionally, our population has grown massively, our living wage emoyment has shrunk -thanks to offshoring and collapsing economic “bubbles”- creating stresses on families and increasing needs for services. Just as our physical infrastructure is in need of repair and attention, so is our social structure under great stress.

      Why should we give? We should give because it will make our world a better place in which to live.

    7. When I went to college in the late 1970’s, I got a scholarship: $100! I went to a Junior College & then transfered to a state college to save money. My tuition at the state college was $99 A SEMESTER. Then, oh no!, the cost went up to $139 A SEMESTER. I also worked to help pay for college, when minimum wages were nearly livable wages, although my parents had saved up to help me pay for college. As others have said, things are VASTLY different now. I was able to go into the workforce debt-free & by doing so was able to contribute to the economy instead of using most of my earnings to pay down my debt.

  14. I put myself through college. I went to a state school, FSU, with the Bright Futures scholarship and the Pell grant. I did work-study as a student and worked 2-3 jobs each summer and holiday. I still left school with over $30,000 of student loan debt.

    I paid towards my debt every month. When, at 34, I was a divorced single mom who couldn’t get child support from my ex, I couldn’t afford safe housing on my full-time salary as a public high school teacher. I couldn’t afford my divorce attorney, I couldn’t afford the recommended therapies for my autistic daughter that insurance wouldn’t cover. I could barely afford the $50 copays for specialists. I couldn’t afford the remaining $3,700 of student debt remaining from when I’d graduated college twelve years beforehand.

    There’s a lot that needs to change in this country. Teachers should be able to earn a living wage for one. Health care shouldn’t be so expensive. And student debt shouldn’t be so punitive.

  15. It is imperative that there is some relief for teachers who are struggling to repay their student loan debt. As we already know beginning teachers with a bachelors degree often start at less than $35,000 in many states and rural areas. It is barely enough to support themselves and raises are less than 5% annually. They work two or more jobs to survive. However, we expect teachers to be well educated, act as social workers, triage nurses, counselors, quasi-parents and teach for less than any other professional in a non-education field. This must change. It is either that – or provide reduced/free tuition with a contract to teach for at least five years in repayment of the debt. Let’s do something now!

    1. There are banking institutions that already offer these types of programs. People need to do some research and find these programs. Why reinvent the wheel?

      1. I wish you were correct and it was that simple…

        As a foster kid I knew higher education would lift me up from poverty and my circumstances. It was not easy affording school while struggling to survive. I can recall times when the dorm closed down and I was basically homeless. Loans helped me to afford, in part my bachelors degree and master degree.

        I have been paying on my loans and I have taught as a special education teacher for over 20 years. NEVER have I been eligible for either the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program nor the (TLP) Teacher Loan Forgiveness program.

        The promise of Public student loan forgiveness and teacher loan forgiveness have a flawed designed law that states I could not have had a loan prior to 1998. Yet, this year was in the middle of my studies… before beginning a master program. This is what disqualifies me.

        No banking or student loan servicing institutions have the ability because of the law.

      2. I have been paying my student loans since I became a teacher in 1994. My husband, a veteran, became a teacher in 2001. We owe over $100,000 (after his GI Bill) even though we have been paying ever since and with three kids, we take turns with our 2nd and 3rd jobs. Banking institutions are just out to screw people who weren’t born into wealthy families and we should not be punished because we decided to dedicate our lives to teaching your children.

      3. Jim,
        I’ve done my research and I have yet to find any bank that offers this. As a special education teacher who is required to stay current with my teaching practices I have had to go back to school to earn two masters degrees. My school district does not compensate us for continued education so as a mom of 3 children I’ve been forced to take out students loans to pay for my continued education. My choice was to either take out student loans or pay for school out right and then not be able to afford to put food on the table for my children and I. When I’ve looked into assistance programs I’ve come up short. I’d love if you could provide me with any leads regarding assistance programs that already exist.
        Thank you!

      4. Bank products, those few that exist, are not the answer. Remember that there is a credit check. Most of the folks impacted here would never qualify, hence the need for federal loan programs that are supposed to be protecting the taxpayers including all of these borrowers. Betsy made sure that only the rich and well connected were protected.

  16. My wife and I have over 15 years each and still have huge student debt as the loan companies keep adding unwarranted interest compounded yearly and monthly leading to the loan amount increasing instead of decreasing. Take back the programs into the fed. where “fair” interest and payback can be applied as we have been paying for over 15 years with no end in site.

    1. I agree! They made me start over payments. I’ve been teaching 11 years and now only in year 3 of repayment due to the rules I didn’t know (but asked and they lied about until it was too late). The thousands of dollars more to repay and the strain on my family to somehow repay $500 a month on a teacher’s salary. How is that a functional program anyway?

    2. I agree. If we want to improve our economy, we must help those who are drowning in student loan debt. These aren’t the wealthy in this country. These are the middle and lower class workers who have sacrificed their futures by choosing to work in jobs of service to others, because they can’t build future security with lower paying jobs and huge education loans.
      We have to build them up, so they can invest in our economy. Jobs in education should be respected and offer salaries that equal others of equal higher education. We entrust our precious children’s lives to those who barely can make a living as they try to pay off their student loans. Often, they can’t even afford to live in the communities they work.

  17. I just turned 70 years old last month. I have taught for 31 years in a title 1 school. I am praying that president Biden hears my cry. Please forgive the total student loan debt for all of us. We worked so hard to improve our minds in order to give back and educate the children in our classrooms and community. Now we need help for ourselves.

  18. The interest of my student loan is killing me. I’ve been paying on it for over four years and the balance doesn’t decrease.
    Though I welcome any relief, $50,000 won’t really help.
    Ten years is too long to work at a demoralizing job. 120 payments with high interest is too much.
    Both the interest and the duration of years in public service must be reduced.

  19. Help teachers who have debt for schooling. The
    Expense of the debt is rough considering the small pay that teachers get each month.

  20. This is an amazing response to student loan debt. Even though I was lucky enough to pay off my student loan debt, I know others haven’t been this lucky. I have 3 boys that would like to go to/go back to college and they are afraid to partially due to taking on that debt.

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