SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Teachers were promised federal help with their loans, but now they say that promise was a lie. 

Through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, teachers and other public servants were offered the opportunity to have their loans completely forgiven after ten years of on-time payments. For teachers, the program required that they work in underserved communities like Title 1 schools, so many teachers made employment decisions based on that promise. Teachers like Mindy Criado Layton. 

Criado Layton is an English and a Second Language teacher at a high need elementary school. She explained that she got a Master’s degree to be better equipped to serve her community. “My student loans are as much as double a car payment, half of a mortgage; it’s significant enough that every bit of money counts.”

When she heard about the PSF program, she says she was excited, “That’s just one carrot to keep us in, to keep the great educators in the places that need them the most,” but she quickly discovered her expectations far exceeded reality. 

“To have your loans forgiven is unattainable, ” she said. “You have to re-consolidate with a lender that’s not credible, a no-name lender, at a higher rate, then you have to pay ten years consecutive to this lender.”

Public servants are required to re-consolidate with FedLoan Servicing. Criado Layton says her interest rate there was nearly double what she was offered elsewhere, and that ten-year clock starts when you re-consolidate, not when you start teaching. To find out the status of their loans, teachers are required to mail in a physical letter each year and are penalized if they don’t. 

Mindy says she would spend her short 25-minute lunch breaks in her car, begging to talk to someone over the phone. “They said, oh, the date’s not in there. And I was like no, I have double-checked and triple copied, so there’s a lot of mistrust. I’m sure that date’s on there. The people that I talked to seemed like a call center, you call in and it doesn’t seem like they know a lot about your loan.”

The PSF program started back in 2007, so now ten years later, the first rounds of teachers eligible are trying to get their loans forgiven. The latest data as of December 31st, 2018 reports that 53,749 people have applied to the program, but only 661 have been approved. That’s less than 1% for a grand total of $26.9 million. The federal government has reportedly spent $700 million on this program. 

Criado Layton says, “When you read in the news that they put $700 million into federal loan forgiveness and they’ve only given out 1%? Where’s our money going?”

She says this fiasco is going to drive away potential teachers and negatively impact the kids who need them. 

 “A little federal aid is minimal compared to the touch that I can have on students and families and communities.”

Find the latest report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office here.