Seven years is a long amount of time. Babies grow into children in seven years. That length of time would cover nearly two full presidential terms. Seven years is also a long time to be an African-American woman with more than $80,000 in student loan debt with no end in sight.
That’s how long it took me to discover the resources available to me as a public school teacher to lessen my student loan debt, and more importantly, to forgive portions of my student loan debt.
I heard about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program during an African American Educators Forum (AAEF) meeting. AAEF is a subcommittee within Education Minnesota’s Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee (EMAC), which advises my union’s governing body on issues related to racial disparities in education and the achievement and opportunity gaps. I joined the forum after attending an end-of-the-year celebration that AAEF hosted. The forum exists to provide educators of color, specifically African-American educators, with an outlet where we can work on issues that are specific to our community.
Hits African-Americans particularly hard
Student loan debt is an issue for many people, but it’s one that hits the African-American community particularly hard. More than 40 percent of African-Americans between the ages of 25-55 had student loan debt in 2013, compared to 28 percent of whites. When you take into account the fact that white families have, on average, seven times the wealth of African-American families, the jaws of student loan debt seem to grip even tighter around folks of color trying to pay off their debt.
When I was introduced to the PSLF Program, my first thought was, “Here we go again with another loan forgiveness scheme.” But after hearing some testimonials from folks who actually received lower payment plans, I decided to give it a shot.
Completing the online application seemed easy, but part of me was worried I was clicking on the wrong links or entering information that wasn’t correct. Most of my fears were alleviated when my student loan servicer sent me an email confirming they’d received my application and would process it once all required documents were received. While there were a few bumps along the road, the process was straightforward enough for me to feel that I’d filled everything out correctly.
Considering the average starting salary for a teacher in Minnesota is around $34,500, and my student loan bills were coming in at around $369 every month, it’s no wonder I was nervous about crossing my t’s and dotting my i’s when it came to applying for student loan forgiveness.
Estimates from my union show that a new teacher with the state average of $32,000 in student loan debt could save as much as $20,000 in monthly loan payments and in forgiveness if she were able to enroll right away in PSLF. For teachers earning a master’s or additional licenses with around $70,000 in debt, that savings could be much higher, especially after you factor in interest rates.
Results: A big help
After three weeks of crossed fingers, the results were in: My student loan payments were reduced by $112.59 per month, leaving me with a monthly payment around $250.
My student loan repayment plan isn’t perfect. I was hoping my payments would be lowered to about $200 per month. But it is a start in the right direction. I just wish I would have started in this direction sooner than seven years after I started my teaching career.
If I had been made aware of the loan forgiveness options available to me as a teacher when I first started, the last seven years of my life would have been different. I wouldn’t have struggled as much financially, and there would have been a much lighter weight on my shoulders when it came to my mountain of student loan debt.
HF 2576 would increase awareness
A bill has been proposed in the Minnesota House of Representatives during this legislative session that would require distribution of materials designed specifically to increase awareness of federal loan forgiveness programs, such as the PSLF. HF 2576 would require employers to inform employees about their potential eligibility for student loan forgiveness. This is step in the right direction if we are truly serious about addressing the teacher shortage and increasing educators of color in Minnesota.
I’m happy that my student loan bills are lower than they were a few months ago. However, I still can’t help but wonder how different my life would be if this bill had been law when I started my career. The stress and anxiety of student loan debt affects far too many educators. I believe we can better serve our students and focus on the issues that matter to them once the heavy burden of crippling debt is lifted.
I may not be able to see the end of the tunnel just yet, but at least I’m closer than I was before. For now, I urge lawmakers to pass HF 2576 this legislative session.
Staretta Ann Taylor-Cooper received her B.A. in elementary education in 2008 at Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and started teaching in urban charter schools. She later received her master’s degree in 2010 in early childhood education from the University of Phoenix. Taylor-Cooper has taught pre-K through third grade, and is currently a pre-kindergarten educator at Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Elementary in St. Paul. She has been teaching for nearly seven years in urban schools, and is planning to pursue a doctorate.
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