Student loan debt is a hot topic. With over $1.5 trillion in student loan debt scattered across 45 million borrowers, America is facing a potential economic crisis. If people begin defaulting en masse, the results could be financially catastrophic. Alongside that, the push to forgive student loan debt is growing. Now on of the largest teachers’ union in the country, the American Federation of Teachers, along with the AFL-CIO, has sued the U.S. Department of Education for failing to adequately administer a debt-forgiveness program designed to alleviate the financial burden of those working in public service.
After stating that the “Plaintiffs seek to hold ED accountable for its gross mismanagement of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness,” the lawsuit explains:
In 2007, recognizing that the skyrocketing cost of higher education made it nearly impossible for public servants to obtain the degrees required to serve in their professions and pay back their resulting student loans, a bipartisan Congress enacted the PSLF Program. PSLF’s purpose was to relieve the burden of student debt for teachers, nurses, police officers, firefighters, and others who had made 120 qualifying payments on eligible student loans on a qualifying repayment plan, while working at a qualifying job. Millions of public servants have relied on PSLF in taking out student loans. But ED—the very agency that is supposedly the champion of our nation’s education system—has failed to live up to its role in administering this Program.
Picking up the story, NPR details the experience of a teacher named Debbie Baker, who was led to believe that her student loans were going to be forgiven. After 10 years of teaching in Tulsa, Okla., Baker was told by the company handling her student loans that “she was on track.”
Turns out, she wasn’t on track and her $76,000 worth of loans hasn’t been forgiven. Unbeknownst to Baker, she was “in the wrong type of loan.” NPR explains that “If she’d known that at the beginning, she could have switched loans and ended up qualifying. But she says nobody ever told her.”
Speaking to NPR, Baker confessed, “When this hit … I didn’t know whether to cry, throw up, get mad. I honestly did not think the federal government would do this to someone.”
Regardless of what any of us believe about student loan-forgiveness programs, it’s apparent that Debbie Baker was simply availing herself of the Department of Education’s program that promised her debt-forgiveness. It’s also apparent that someone in the process mismanaged Baker’s case. She wasn’t trying to game the system, she was playing by the rules.
NPR explains that in the lawsuit, which was filed on July 11:
The union is asking the court to order the department to fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program so that it meets legal standards. It’s also asking the department to come up with an appeals process for people who believe they have been treated unfairly.
If the Department of Education is going to offer student loan debt-forgiveness program, they should ensure that the program works as intended. Providing hope to hardworking teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public servants and then thwarting their attempts to take advantage of the legal program is unacceptable. Either get rid of the program or run it correctly and fairly.