Billionaire Betsy and her abandonment of student loan relief for teachers, others

A government that truly cares about doing right by essential public servants would cut the red tape and give them the student loan forgiveness they deserve.

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College students at a recent graduation.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

It all sounds simple and fair, the kind of government spending that most taxpayers can readily support:

Give young people a break on their student loan debt after they spend a good chunk of their career working for the public good.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program was supposed to help out tens of thousands of young, would-be teachers, nurses and other public servants and nonprofit workers.

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We’re not talking free college or cancelling every borrower’s student debt, radical proposals full of downsides that require thoughtful debate.

We’re talking about a relatively modest plan to forgive the debt of young people who have worked in public service for 10 years and made 10 years of regular payments on their loans.

It would be a boon for potentially tens of thousands of young people, buried under their share of our country’s $1.5 trillion in college debt. It would be a well-deserved “thank you” for their spending a decade doing good, often for modest pay.

It sounds simple and fair, but it’s been anything but that.

In 2007, during the Bush administration, Congress passed the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Then last year, in the first year of eligibility under the 10-year guideline, about 28,000 borrowers applied for loan forgiveness.

But, federal data showed, the Department of Education approved the applications of only 289 borrowers — a mere 1%.

And now, this year, it’s deja vu all over again, a new General Accounting Office report has found.

In response to a barrage of complaints from applicants who said the program’s requirements were too rigid and accused the government’s loan servicers of misleading them, Congress in 2018 voted to expand the program. Lawmakers put another $350 million behind the plan.

But once again, the Department of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos just can’t — or won’t — get its act together.

Since Congress expanded the program last year, DeVos’ department has turned down 99% of applicants, the GAO found.

A mere 661 borrowers — 1% of the 54,154 applicants — were granted a total of $26.9 million in loan forgiveness under the expanded program.

We have little doubt that the usual bureaucracy is part of the problem. But also we suspect something worse at work: The Trump administration and DeVos just don’t give a damn.

They’ve already said they want to kill the program, whining that it’s just “too complicated.”

So why try to make it work?

An administration that cared about working people would cut through the bureaucracy and inefficiency and get that loan forgiveness to those whom the program is designed to assist.

We’ve seen this before from DeVos. She’s shown little sympathy for-profit college students stuck with worthless degrees and huge student loans they can’t pay back. Dozens of for-profit schools have lured students in with fake promises of jobs in lucrative career fields, but DeVos has stymied efforts to forgive their student debt.

This is not surprising, given that she has packed the Department of Education with former for-profit college executives.

At a Senate hearing in March, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois blasted DeVos for her department’s shoddy track record on loan forgiveness, among other matters. Durbin pointed out that efforts like it are an important tool to easing the nation’s public school teacher shortage.

Your unwillingness in your department to deal with the Public Service Loan program is destroying an incentive . . . for those [students] to go on and become teachers with the prospect that after 10 years their student loans will be forgiven,” Durbin told DeVos. “And now you want to eliminate the program.”

Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth are backing a proposed bill to further overhaul the program. Under this bill, every type of federal loan and repayment plan would be eligible for loan forgiveness.

“These are teachers, firefighters, and nurses who deserve the chance to get the relief they earned,” Durbin said of the bill when it was introduced earlier this year.

We can’t all be hedge-fund managers, even if the price of a college education these days makes it tougher than ever to choose a less lucrative career, such as saving people from fires or teaching children.

For that matter, we can’t all be the daughter and daughter-in-law of billionaires, like DeVos.

Gee, how long did it take her to pay back her student loans?

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