Teaching is both a profession and a calling. What it is not is lucrative. Few occupations produce so much reward for so little gain.
Happily, options are available for managing the financial load that confronts many teachers. Among these are student loan forgiveness and specialty grants, as well as other forms of financial assistance.
Every little boost helps because, on average, teachers keep getting squeezed. Nationwide, teacher compensation shrunk 4.5 percent over the past decade — small wonder more than 500,000 public school educators have staged walkouts for higher pay in six states since the beginning of 2018.
Meanwhile, teachers face costs beyond standard living expenses: classroom supplies not covered by the school board ($479 a year, on average) and out-of-pocket costs of continuing education.
Even as she concedes educators’ first loyalty — their calling — is to their students, National Education Association (NEA) President Lily Eskelsen Garcia decries the expanding pay gap between teachers’ earnings and others similarly educated and experienced.
While the work of prodding state legislators and local school boards to improve the lot of teachers goes on, teachers can do far more for their paycheck-to-paycheck lives than simply wait.
Let’s have a look.
Grants for Teachers
The hills are alive with grants (and fellowships) for alert, ambitious teachers. Technology grants. And beyond those, STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) grants. Literacy grants. Classroom grants. Soft sciences (culture, humanities, economics, employment, environment, gun-violence prevention) grants. Professional development grants.
An internet search suggests if a teacher can imagine it, there’s a grant available to support it. Want your classroom to collaborate on a children’s book? There’s a grant for that. Got a plan to boost your school’s creative capacity? There’s a grant for that, too. Got some innovative thoughts about expanding your students’ facility for innovation? You know the drill.
There are national grants, regional grants, and state grants. There are subject-specific grants and invent-a-topic-and-inspire-the-judges grants. There is even a grant — we are not making this up — that provides support for a teacher to purchase and maintain small animals in the classroom, designed to help develop compassion among students for other living creatures.
List of grants for teachers:
- Stem – STEMgrants.com lists over 100 opportunities for grants in STEM. The Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship (AEF) Program gives K-12 STEM teachers an opportunity to spend 11 months working for a federal agency.
- Humanities – The National Endowment for the Humanities has several grant programs geared toward language, literature, history and the arts. The Philanthropic Ventures Foundation offers grants to music, theater, visual arts and dance education.
- Professional development – The McCarthey Dressman Education Foundation provides grants for up to $10,000 per year for teacher development.
- Class achievement – The NEA Foundation has Student Success Grants of $2,000 and $5,000 available for members that teach in public schools. The funds are meant for classroom supplies.
Student Loan Forgiveness for Teachers
It’s always a good idea to watch the news regarding loan forgiveness for teachers. While Democratic candidates for president talk up wiping out all student loans, loan forgiveness continues to be a moving target in Washington. You never know if you’ll be affected by the next round of benevolence.
News Item 1: In May of 2019, the U.S. Department of Education made good on its vow to eliminate tens of thousands of dollars in loans for each of about 2,300 teachers who, arguably, had been double-crossed by the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants. Often, those grants — that is, money that was not supposed to be required to be repaid — were converted into loans, often for penny-ante reasons.
As many as 6,000 teachers had applied to have their loans turned back into grants, with fewer than two dozen being denied. The Education Department has since agreed to expand the fix and simplify the program.
News Item 2: Since 2015, nearly 20 states — sorry, not the sexy ones — have passed almost two dozen new laws creating or enhancing student loan forgiveness opportunities. This year, 36 state legislatures are weighing 145 bills that would expand state loan repayment programs.
More than a few of these programs are aimed at teachers, especially those with special training, or who are willing to tackle high-need areas.
Other programs are available as well. Consider:
Teacher Loan Forgiveness
Keep in mind that while there is no ironclad guarantee of loan forgiveness, the likelihood of success is high when teachers work in designated types of schools for a contracted amount of time. As with all financial arrangements, read — and understand — the fine print.
Under the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, you can have up to $17,500 in student debt forgiven by teaching for five full and consecutive years in a low-income school or educational-service agency. Other qualifications may apply.
Public Service Loan Forgiveness
Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) is a little more complicated.
Candidates for PSLF must:
- work for a government agency or for a qualifying nonprofit;
- work full-time for the agency or nonprofit;
- have Direct Loans (or consolidate other federal student loans);
- repay their loans on an income-based plan; and
- make 120 qualifying payments.
When all these qualifications are fulfilled, the balance of the student-loan debt can be forgiven. Better still, PSLF can be combined with the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program — first one, then the other.
Perkins Loan Cancellation for Teachers
If you took out a qualifying Federal Perkins Loan before September 30, 2017, and have stuck with the plan, congratulations. You’re still on track to have up to $60,000 in student debt wiped out at the end of four or five years.
Remember to keep up with the regulations. First and foremost, you must maintain employment as a full-time teacher in certain designated subjects in a teacher-shortage area or educational service agency serving low-income students.
Again, Perkins loans taken out after September 30, 2017, when the program lapsed, are not eligible for cancellation.
Debt Relief Assistance and Counseling
Stipulated: It’s not easy to get by on a teacher’s salary. It’s useful to be part of a two-income family, but that’s not always possible. When it’s not, tight, disciplined budgeting is key.
If you’re a teacher who’s already in a financial bind with unmanageable credit card debt, there are ways out, including debt-consolidation personal loans (with their lower interest rates) and cards that combine super-low or zero-interest teaser rates with small fees when you transfer existing balances.
If you’re a teacher who lacks the discipline or the expertise to master a tight budget, but you’ve resolved to get your financial house in order, consider credit counseling with a nonprofit debt management agency. Their experts will negotiate with your creditors and work out a repayment plan that fits your budget.
And don’t feel bad or ashamed about turning to nonprofit credit counselors. That’s their expertise. They probably can’t diagram a sentence, solve a geometry proof, balance a chemical equation, or pinpoint the date the Magna Carta was signed.
But they can help you get out of credit card debt!
About The Author
Max Fay has been writing about personal finance for Debt.org for the past five years. His expertise is in student loans, credit cards and mortgages. Max inherited a genetic predisposition to being tight with his money and free with financial advice. He was published in every major newspaper in Florida while working his way through Florida State University. He can be reached at [email protected].
- Long, C. (2019, April 29) Average Teacher Salary Down 4.5% Over Past Decade. Retrieved from: http://neatoday.org/2019/04/29/national-average-teacher-salary/.
- Will, M. (2018, May 15) The Average Teacher Spends $479 a Year on Classroom Supplies, National Data Show. Retrieved from: https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2018/05/15/the-average-teacher-spends-479-a-year.html.
- Danilova, M. (2018, May 15) Study: Despite modest income, nearly all teachers pay for class needs out of own pocket. Retrieved from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2018/05/15/nearly-all-teachers-spend-own-money-school-needs-study/610542002/.
- Arnold, C. and Turner, C. (2019, May 3) Teachers Begin To See Unfair Student Loans Disappear. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2019/05/03/711373657/teachers-begin-to-see-unfair-student-loans-disappear.
- Will, M. (2019, May 3) Even More Teachers Can Now Have Their TEACH Grant Debt Forgiven. Retrieved from: https://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2019/05/teach_grant_debt_forgiveness.html.
- Hackman, M. (2019, April 20) States Tempt Recent College Graduates With Student-Loan Payoffs. Retrieved from: https://www.wsj.com/articles/states-tempt-recent-college-graduates-with-student-loan-payoffs-11555772400.
- NA (ND) Wondering whether you can get your federal student loans forgiven for your service as a teacher? Retrieved from: https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/teacher.
- NA (ND) If you are employed by a government or not-for-profit organization, you may be able to receive loan forgiveness under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. Retrieved from https://studentaid.ed.gov/sa/repay-loans/forgiveness-cancellation/public-service.
- NA (ND) Tax Tips for Teachers: Deducting Out-of-Pocket Classroom Expenses. Retrieved from https://turbotax.intuit.com/tax-tips/college-and-education/tax-tips-for-teachers-deducting-out-of-pocket-classroom-expenses/L7RQyMRR4.