The Atlantic

The Financial Calamity That Is the Teaching Profession

Teachers are suing the government over debt relief that never came—but their financial problems go much deeper than student loans.
Source: Dan Whitcomb / Reuters

America needs teachers: A majority of the country’s most experienced K–12 educators are expected to retire in the next few years, while research suggests that thousands of others will likely leave the profession prematurely, citing job dissatisfaction. How to get more people to join the profession? A little more than a decade ago, policy makers came up with one idea they thought would help: Give teachers some extra support in paying off their student loans. So, in 2007, Congress tasked the U.S. Department of Education, which administers federal financial aid, with offering student-debt relief to recent graduates in public-service careers: Essentially, make your minimum monthly payments for 10 years and your loans will be erased.

Thousands of public-service workers—including teachers, nurses, and firefighters—have applied for forgiveness since 2017, when the relief, according to federal data, with the rest blaming misleading bureaucratic requirements that enable the Education Department’s contracted loan servicers to deny them the benefits. Now, teachers across the United States are the Education Department, alleging that its failure to make good on the loan forgiveness violates both their constitutional right to due process and administrative-procedure laws. (Liz Hill, the Education Department’s press secretary, declined to comment on the suit because it’s pending litigation, but noted in an email that the agency “is faithfully administering the complex program Congress passed.”)

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