Michigan Democrat introduces bill to help teachers pay off their student loans faster

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich speaks before President Joe Biden announces new initiatives to expand access to mental health care for Americans in the East Room of the White House on July 25, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Michigan Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow wants to make it easier for teachers to pay off their student loans, an effort she says will help stave off teacher shortages by keeping educators in the classroom.

Stabenow’s bill, the Teacher Debt Relief Act, would change the law to allow teachers to qualify for public service loan forgiveness five years earlier than current law allows. 

“This legislation sends a strong message that we value the hard work of our teachers and understand the challenges they face in the classroom and in their school districts every day,” Stabenow said in a news release. “This bill will keep talented teachers in the classroom, and provide greater stability for our local school districts.”

Currently, teachers can receive debt forgiveness from both the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program and the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. The Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program gives up to $17,500 in loan forgiveness to teachers who work in a low-income school or educational service agency for five consecutive years. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives teachers’ federal student loans after they’ve made 120 qualifying monthly payments under an income-driven repayment plan

However, under federal law teachers cannot enroll in both programs simultaneously. That means that they may have to wait an additional five years, more than other public service employees, to have their federal loans forgiven. 

Michigan is currently facing a teacher shortage

A report published in September 2023 by the research and consulting firm Public Policy Associates in Lansing found that teacher vacancies are double what they were before the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, schools are having a hard time filling those vacancies because not enough people are applying for the open positions.

Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed legislation in October that provided $370 million for tuition-free scholarships for students intending to become teachers in Michigan and changed existing law to allow retired public school teachers to return to the classroom to fill teacher vacancies while still receiving their retirement benefits. 

The report from Public Policy Associates said that loan forgiveness for teachers is another way to address teacher vacancies.

Michigan Education Association President Chandra Madafferi, a teacher from Oakland County, said in Stabenow’s news release: “We’re thankful for the introduction of this new act and all efforts to reduce financial barriers to entering and staying in the education profession. Educators across Michigan and the country continue to benefit from current federal loan forgiveness programs, but reducing the amount of time until they see debt relief in their wallets will help us keep more great educators working every day with students.”