Democratic U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow has introduced a federal bill intended to help teachers pay off their student loan debt faster, in hopes of spurring recruitment of new teachers and retention of current staff.
The bill, called the Teacher Debt Relief Act, would allow teachers to simultaneously enroll in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and Teacher Loan Forgiveness program.
Under current law, teachers some can receive partial relief from the Teacher Loan Forgiveness program. The program forgives up to $17,500 in student loan debt for special education teachers and secondary math and science teachers in low-income communities after five years of service. All other teachers can apply for up to $5,000 worth of forgiveness.
The Public Service Loan Forgiveness program forgives federal student loans for teachers after 10 years of payments.
Teachers are not allowed to enter both programs at the same time, lengthening the process to seek full relief to 15 years.
Supporters of the new bill said allowing service time to accumulate concurrently would help the many educators who struggle with student loan debt.
“The challenge is it can take up to 15 years to qualify for full relief under these programs. This bill tries to accelerate that process,” said Doug Pratt, director of communications and public engagement for the Michigan Education Association.
“The time it takes to get to full relief can be a huge burden, especially for somebody coming out of college with student debt and the low starting salaries that many educators are facing,” he said. “This is another way to get money into their wallets and use that to make sure that the dedicated people we have working with our students, stay working with our students.”
Pratt said better compensation and more respect for the profession would help address staffing problems and attract new teachers. “This is a critically important job and our educators, teachers, and support staff deserve our respect. They deserve to earn a good middle class wage for the work that they do,” he said.
In a statement accompanying the introduction of the legislation, Stabenow expressed a desire to support educators.
“We want the best of the best for our children in our classrooms. This legislation sends a strong message that we value the hard work of our teachers and understand the challenges they face in the classroom and in their school districts every day,” Stabenow said. “This bill will keep talented teachers in the classroom, and provide greater stability for our local school districts.”