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Federal overhaul could provide student debt relief to WI teachers

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States like Wisconsin have created task forces addressing student loan issues. In the meantime, teachers are applauding on overhaul of a federal relief program.

MILWAUKEE, Wis. -- Major changes to the U.S. Department of Education's Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program could have a big impact on some of Wisconsin's educators.

The program was created in 2007 and meant to provide student-loan relief to public-service workers, including teachers and paraprofessionals, but it has been plagued by bureaucratic issues that have made it difficult to qualify.

The changes allow eligible borrowers to complete a waiver to count all payments toward the forgiveness program, regardless of the loan program or payment plan.

Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education, said the department is ready to right the wrongs inflicted on teachers across the country.

"We want to make sure that we're doing everything in the agency to protect our borrowers, our students," Cardona pledged. "We serve our students. We have to make that clear, not only in our talk, but in our actions. You've done so much to help our community. You were made a promise, and it's now our turn to deliver on that promise."

The average student debt load in Wisconsin is around $30,000. Under the program, the remainder of student debt is forgiven once 120 monthly payments have been made while working full-time for a nonprofit or government employer.

James Kvaal, undersecretary of education, said by temporarily easing some requirements, they are taking the pressure off of many educators.

"And we think that'll help some 550,000 borrowers, perhaps more, make meaningful progress toward that forgiveness state," Kvaal estimated.

One of the biggest complaints surrounding the program is many borrowers were unaware their loan did not qualify, and after converting to an eligible loan, their payment count went back to zero.

In 2019, Wisconsin's attorney general was among states filing a court brief, asking for a more detailed review of borrower's claims. The temporary waiver announced this week runs through October of next year.

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