Biden’s Move to Cancel Student Debt a Boon For Many Teachers, Child Care Workers

President’s canceling of $10,000 in debt for most borrowers will aid many educators. Half of teachers who took loans still owe an average of $59,000

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The federal government will forgive $10,000 in debt for college loan borrowers earning under $125,000, President Joe Biden said in a long-awaited announcement Wednesday. Pell grant recipients are eligible to see $20,000 of their debt wiped out. 

Biden, who made student debt relief part of his presidential campaign, also extended a COVID-related pause on student loan payments through the end of the year.

“Education is a ticket to a better life, but over time, that ticket has become too expensive,” the president said at the White House. “The burden is so heavy that even if you graduate, you may not have access to the middle class life that the college degree once provided.”  

The decision could lift some of the financial burden off teachers who took out loans to fund their education. A July 2021 report from the National Education Association showed that 45% of educators were student loan borrowers and over half of those still have a balance, averaging almost $59,000.

“Nobody goes into teaching for the money, but you have to survive,” said Joshua Starr, managing partner of the International Center for Leadership in Education, affiliated with education publisher Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt. Previously, he served as CEO of PDK International, a membership organization for educators. 

Making college more affordable, he said, “is one part of a larger fabric that we have to consider when we want to promote the idea that teaching is a sustainable job.”

The president gave himself an Aug. 31 deadline to announce his decision — the date that the pause on federal student loan payments was set to expire. His announcement drew criticism from Republicans, who have said the policy gives borrowers a “handout,” will make inflation worse and ignores the law. Earlier this month, the GOP introduced legislation that would limit loan forgiveness. But Democrats largely applauded the move, with Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, chair of the education committee, calling it a “milestone moment.”

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Education provided an update on the $32 billion in student debt relief previously approved since the Democrats took office. That includes $10 billion for over 175,000 borrowers in the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program since last October. 

Under former Secretary Betsy DeVos, the vast majority in the program were denied debt cancellation even though they took education and other service sector jobs that they believed would qualify. To be eligible for forgiveness, borrowers in the program had to submit a waiver, which expires at the end of October. Democrats are urging Education Secretary Miguel Cardona to extend the waiver until at least July 1 of next year. 

‘Struggling to rebound’

As the cost of a college degree has increased, the NEA report showed that educators 35 and under were more likely to take out student loans, compared to older educators. Student debt is also more common among Black than white educators — 56% compared with 44%.

Some advocates said the president’s action doesn’t go far enough. 

“Canceling $10,000 in student loan debt merely puts a Band-Aid on the real problem of reforming the system that has landed us in this mess — and within years we will be right back at the same point,” the National Parents Union said in a statement.

Kim Cook, CEO of the nonprofit National College Attainment Network, noted that Pell grants for low-income students — at an average of about $4,500 — don’t cover even half the annual cost of higher education. 

“Fast-rising and unmanageable levels of student debt are the result of a broken system for financing higher education in which many parents and students are forced to take out loans they cannot reasonably be expected to repay,” she said in a statement. The organization advocates for doubling Pell grant awards.

Experts say loan forgiveness would especially benefit early educators, who make far less than those in the K-12 system and often kept their programs open when schools were closed.  

“The pandemic shined a light on the low pay for child care providers who are leaving the industry in droves, causing a shortage of child care options for families,” said Alexandra Patterson, director of policy and strategy for Home Grown, a nonprofit advocating for home-based providers. Loan forgiveness, she said, would benefit “a workforce that is severely underpaid and is still struggling to rebound from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic while wrestling with the challenges of inflation.”

Adrienne Briggs, who runs Lil’ Bits Family Child Care Home in Philadelphia, earned her master’s in early-childhood education in 2013, but she still carries over $50,000 in debt. She didn’t qualify for relief though the revamped Public School Loan Forgiveness program because she owns her own business.

Through an income-based repayment program, her $650 monthly payments have dropped to $150, but that just stretched out the debt over a longer period. The administration is also relaxing those repayment terms, lowering the percentage borrowers have to pay from 10% to 5% of their income. And it will forgive original loan balances of $12,000 after 10 years. 

“Even having my master’s did not change my position,” said Briggs, who serves families who receive child care subsidies and wouldn’t be able to pay higher rates if she raised them. “All I ended up getting was a bill that has been haunting me all this time.”

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