Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota welcomed a presenter from the state union Feb. 24 to educate its members about ways they can get out from under student loan debt.
Bridget Foster, with Education Minnesota, speaks to a room of approximately 70 Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota educators about student debt and loan forgiveness options in Coon Rapids Feb. 24. Photo by Olivia Alveshere
Across the country, outstanding educational debt is up to $1.2 trillion, according to the North Star Policy Institute, working with Education Minnesota to connect with educators across the state.
In Minnesota, the average student graduates with $31,000 in debt, the fifth highest amount in the country, according to the The Institute for College Access and Success.
“This isn’t something that we want to be number one on,” said Bridget Foster with Education Minnesota.
Foster presented to approximately 70 AHEM educators at the Coon Rapids Civic Center last week, focusing on Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Loan Forgiveness options.
Individuals working for the government or a nonprofit and making payments on direct loans after Oct. 1, 2007, are eligible for Public Service Loan Forgiveness. An estimated 23 million people in the United States are eligible, according to Foster. But currently, only 3 million people are taking advantage of the program.
“Nobody knows about it,” Foster said.
After making 120 qualifying payments, monthly payments for 10 years, principal and interest are forgiven.
There won’t be much left to be forgiven if educators are on a 10-year standard repayment plan. Entry-level teachers, making $34,505 on average in Minnesota, will likely qualify for income-based and pay-as-you-earn repayment plans, which can be set up through loan servicers. These plans typically allow for lower monthly payments, 10 to 15 percent of their household’s discretionary income. Foster knew of one case where a teacher earning less than $40,000 had a husband out of work and three kids to support. Her qualified monthly payment was zero dollars, so even though she didn’t technically make payments, each month counted as one of the required 120 payments towards loan forgiveness.
Teacher Loan Forgiveness applies to loans taken out after Oct. 1, 1998, but unlike Public Service Loan Forgiveness, it applies only to teachers, not anyone working in the public sector.
To qualify, teachers must work in a low-income school for five consecutive years. After doing so, teachers receive one-time money. Most receive $5,000, but special education teachers and secondary math and science teachers collect $17,500.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness and Teacher Loan Forgiveness cannot be applied simultaneously, Foster noted.
“We’re really trying to get this information out there for folks,” Foster said. “Sharing your story is really important.”
Emilie Buesing, a media specialist at Andover High School, is eager to bring back what she learned to her colleagues at the high school.
“We’re all coming from different situations,” she said, but “I think that there’s something here for every one of us.”
Kate Lorenz, an English teacher at Regional High School, formerly Crossroads, has taught in a low-income school for the past five years and is ready to apply for Teacher Loan Forgiveness after the presentation. “This is something I can actually use to my advantage,” Lorenz said.
Jackson Middle School science teacher Jessica Wang found the presentation to be “overwhelming, but informative.”
After Foster wrapped up, State Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Sen. John Hoffman (DFL-Champlin) spoke on proposals pertaining to student debt they anticipate coming before the Legislature this upcoming session.
Proposals include freezing tuition at the University of Minnesota and other schools within the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, expanding a pilot loan refinancing program, increasing state grants and providing up to a $5,000 tax credit for payments made on student loans, Hortman said, calling the last measure the “most likely to pass” with the large budget surplus.
Hoffman urged educators to write to Sen. Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley) and Sen. LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Plummer), both on education and finance committees.
Hortman added that educators should be sure to reach out to their own elected officials, too.
“People who have taken out loans have done the right thing,” Hortman said.
Another “Degrees NOT Debt” session is scheduled for March 23 for AHEM members, this time at the Educational Service Center in Anoka. The session filled quickly and had to be capped at 120 people. AHEM is working with Education Minnesota to plan a third session in the coming months, according to AHEM President LeMoyne Corgard.
“It helps us attract and retain teachers if we can somehow help them work on this college indebtedness,” Corgard said.