According to new data shared with POLITICO, thousands of teachers have been rejected for public service loan forgiveness because they were not able to get government approval for their work in public service. Educators were rejected in some cases for seemingly minor mistakes, such as checking the wrong box or not including a date next to a signature. Others were rejected on the basis that their school did not qualify as a public service employer.
In recent years, Democrats have attacked the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program for rejecting more than 98 percent of borrowers who applied. This disclosure indicates further bureaucratic problems with the program. Most of the controversy has centered on borrowers being rejected because they had the wrong type of federal loan or entered into the wrong repayment plan.
“This disturbing data shines a floodlight on just how wrong, widespread and farcical PSLF denials have become” Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT.
New data reveals, for the first time, how the Education Department has rejected teachers and other school employees despite the fact that teachers qualify under the law.
Data obtained by the advocacy group Student Borrower Protection Center indicates that 4,500 educators from 2,700 schools and districts have been denied certification that their employment counts for the program. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have schools where borrowers were denied loans.
Fresh pressure is mounting on the administration to keep its campaign promise to “fix” the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has stated that making changes to the program is a priority, but he has not committed to the sweeping debt relief that many unions are requesting.
As a result of the new data, teachers’ unions are demanding that the Biden administration cancel the debts of public service workers who have unsuccessfully applied for Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
“This disturbing data shines a floodlight on just how wrong, widespread and farcical PSLF denials have become” Randi Weingarten, president of the AFT. A minor clerical error can derail an entire application, handing debt sentences to educators who have dedicated their lives to helping children.
Becky Pringle, president of the NEA, urged the Biden administration to provide “the immediate cancellation of all outstanding debt for all educators with ten or more years of experience – just as the Department of Education’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness program was intended.”
The NEA and AFT are part of a coalition of public-sector unions that are urging the Education Department to cancel the debts of all public employees who have been repaying their loans for at least a decade but have not been eligible for loan forgiveness.
“Educators, nurses, firefighters, and all our public service workers have kept us together during this pandemic,” Pringle said. “Now, the government must meet its promise to them.”
The Biden administration has said it plans to take executive action regarding the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program in the coming months.
The Education Department plans to rewrite the program’s rules as part of a broader reform of higher education regulations. But the department has also been asking for suggestions on more immediate solutions to the problem.
Democratic candidates have also proposed expanding the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and making the benefits more generous.
GOP lawmakers say the program unfairly targets subsidies based on tax status, such as helping a nurse who works for a not-for-profit hospital but not providing the same benefit for a nurse who works for a for-profit hospital.
Former President Donald Trump’s administration repeatedly proposed eliminating the program due to its taxpayer costs.
Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency, which operates the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program on behalf of the Education Department under the name Fed Loan Servicing, released the data to the Student Borrower Protection Center.
According to the data, the company rejected tens of thousands of borrowers during a preliminary step in the loan forgiveness program: determining whether a borrower works for a qualifying public service employer.
In the data, Education Department rejects the borrower’s “Employment Certification Form” for a variety of reasons. It does not provide specific information about individual borrowers, but it does provide aggregate figures for each employer.
According to the data, 31 Chicago Public Schools employees had their employment certification forms denied for various reasons. A missing title next to the school official who signed the form, incorrect documentation of a borrower’s work hours, and the determination that Chicago Public Schools was not a qualifying employer were among the mistakes noted.
Seth Frotman, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center, said, “Scandals after scandals are uncovered, and we cannot afford anything less than sweeping relief for our educators and public servants.” “This is not the time for half measures – it is time to cancel student loans owed by veterans who have served for a decade or more.”