Updated at 1:09 p.m. ET
Debbie Baker thought she qualified for a federal program that helps teachers such as her, as well as nurses, police officers, librarians and others. The Department of Education program forgives their federal student loans if they make their payments for 10 years and work in public service.
For 10 years, Baker, who was a public school teacher in Tulsa, Okla., checked in with loan servicing companies and was told she was on track.
“I said, ‘I’m qualifying for public service loan forgiveness,’ and they said, ‘OK, great,’ ” she says.
But it turns out that her $76,000 in student loans didn’t get forgiven. Baker was finally told she was in the wrong type of loan. If she’d known that at the beginning, she could have switched loans and ended up qualifying. But she says nobody ever told her.
“When this hit … I didn’t know whether to cry, throw up, get mad,” she says. “I honestly did not think the federal government would do this to someone.”
Now, Baker is a plaintiff in a lawsuit being brought by one of the biggest teachers unions in the country against the Department of Education. The suit alleges the loan forgiveness program for millions of public service workers is in such a shambles that it violates federal law and the Constitution.
The American Federation of Teachers filed the lawsuit Thursday in federal court. In the complaint obtained by NPR, the union is asking the court to order the department to fix the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program so that it meets legal standards. It’s also asking the department to come up with an appeals process for people who believe they have been treated unfairly.
Congress created the program more than a decade ago to encourage public service. So, if you make loan payments for 10 years and you work in a qualifying job for the government or a nonprofit, the program promises to forgive the remainder of your federal student loan debt.