WASHINGTON (CN) — With the promise of having their debt wiped clean after 10 years of on-time monthly payments, some 73,554 Americans working in public service took out costly loans to get their degrees.
Despite meeting the government’s requirements, however, 71% of these public servants were denied loan forgiveness since 2017. In a federal complaint Thursday, the second largest teacher’s union in the country says ineptitude at the the Education Department is to blame.
Congress enacted the Public Loan Service Forgiveness Program with bipartisan support in 2007, recognizing that the public workforce could attract top talent without the burdens of student loan debt.
“They want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem,” Senator Edward Kennedy said on the Senate floor in 2007. “So often, because of their indebtedness, they have to choose careers in order to deal with the indebtedness. So this legislation will open up or help us take advantage of that idealism that is out there.”
The lawsuit states the department has granted just 518 public servants loan forgiveness of the 32 million eligible borrowers.
This came as a “gut-punch” to the teachers now suing the department, said Lena Konanova an attorney with Selendy Gay, one of three legal teams representing the educators.
Konanova says the teachers planned their lives around the promise of loan forgiveness, and many bear the burden of young children or ailing relatives on top of their student loans.
A Department of Education spokeswoman said she could not comment on pending litigation but that the agency is fulfilling its end of the bargain.
“The department doesn’t comment on pending litigation, but I would point out that the Department is faithfully administering the complex program Congress passed,” press secretary Liz Hill said.
As quoted in the complaint, however, the Government Accountability Office in 2018 identified “widespread servicer misconduct” within the department for failing to provide loan servicers with guidance on how to administer the program.
Konanova said her clients reached out to their Congress members for help but received condolences rather than action in response.
Deborah Baker, a director of education for an Oklahoma nonprofit organization, even wrote to President Donald Trump. She has two small children and is joined by eight fellow plaintiffs in the case, including public school teachers and counselors hailing from across the country.
Konanova said she is confident the teachers bringing the lawsuit will want to be present in court when the case is brought before a U.S. District judge in D.C.
“Every single one of these plaintiffs has put their lives on hold,” Konanova said.
Attorneys from the Florida-based firm Phillips Richard and the National Student Legal Defense Network joined Konanova and three colleagues from Selendy Gay in representing the teachers.