Reviews | Who would really benefit from student loan forgiveness? Teachers.
But experts may want to consider creditors who don’t fit that narrative: teachers.
In education, debt is often the price of entry. Almost half of all teachers in pre-K-12 and higher education go into debt to fund their education. They don’t do it unconsciously, but out of necessity.
I graduated in education 23 years ago with funding from a Pell scholarship. Pell recipients overwhelmingly come from families earning $60,000 a year or less, and in 2015, more than 70% of black students were recipients. At the time, I chose a small liberal arts school that made financial sense and provided me with the degree and credentials I needed to teach. Yet I still had to borrow $23,000the maximum amount allowed for federal undergraduate student loans.
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After college, some educators find it necessary to take on even more debt. When I entered the classroom in 2000, teachers who didn’t have a bachelor’s degree in education had to have a master’s degree in education—or pursue one. Over the years, some states have obligatory educators to earn a master’s degree in their first five or ten years of teaching, or have offered salary incentives for them to do so. In other cases, teachers need an advanced degree to cover the bills because teacher pay levels are based on education and years of experience.
My first job, with Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, offered a starting salary of $24,000. To make ends meet, I added extra jobs, tutoring afternoons and working nights and weekends at a local learning center.
Even then, it was a financial struggle to support my family and pay off my student loans. I had to ask for forbearance for several months when I was simply not generating enough income. Often I ran out of discretionary funds after paying my monthly bills and paying off my loan.
Now Biden has offered student loan forgiveness for younger people like me, up to $20,000 in forgiveness for Pell Grant recipients and up to $10,000 for other borrowers. For those getting into teaching, this is a proposition that seems long overdue.
Education degrees don’t take students to the middle of nowhere. They steer young people towards a field that desperately needs them. Right now, schools across the country can’t find enough teachers to meet demand, leaving leaders scrambling to find solutions. Yet every year, superintendents like me say goodbye to teachers who have excelled in the classroom but are exhausted by financial hardship.
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It’s scary but understandable. The average public school teacher only earns approximately $63,000. Most teachers could make more money babysitting or bartending than educating the next generation of Americans. Part of the solution is to raise teachers’ salaries. However, as a country, we also need to find other ways to make it more comfortable and feasible for young people to pursue an education.
This should include reducing early-career teacher debt. Decreasing average monthly paymentsLike the president’s plan, the program would free up more monthly income for educators to cover the rapidly rising costs of housing, groceries and other necessities. Biden’s plan would also go a long way in keeping many teachers motivated to stick with the profession and stay in the classroom.
Keep in mind that our country aggressively subsidizes a host of other industries – agriculture, airlines, electric car makers. Let’s ask ourselves: Aren’t teachers as deserving as Tesla? If return on investment is driving the conversation, let’s talk about how teachers are the ones who will produce the next generation of farmers, pilots and engineers.
By asking educators to shape our most precious resource – our children – we generate our own debt of gratitude. Why not reduce their student loan debt to demonstrate that our society values them? It’s the kind of forgiveness that could really pay dividends.