Last school year, the ATF became the first union in the United States to secure student loan reimbursement payments for educators. The money came from funds provided by President Biden’s American Rescue Plan. These payments were earmarked to help educators and their families make ends meet while struggling with student loan debt. APS is now in a “use it or lose it” situation. If the district doesn’t use this money to help recruit and retain educators, the funds will default back to the federal government.
This week, your union wrote a letter to the superintendent and the APS Board asking to continue this program for another two years so we can bring this benefit to more APS educators and their families. In the 2021-22 school year, 594 APS educators received reimbursement of over $1,680 each. This money went straight into their pockets and was a boon for the local economy. It’s no stretch to think of it as a mini economic stimulus infusion from the ATF and the district.
The student loan debt reimbursement program established by APS and the ATF has been a triumph in multiple ways. It has provided a valuable benefit to public school educators and has done so at no cost to APS. The ATF was more than happy to collect the documentation the district required. We worked closely with the Human Resources and Payroll departments to get the funds dispersed. We offered Student Loan Debt Clinics to educate borrowers on how they could obtain further debt relief through Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
In a time when the recruitment and retention of educators is so incredibly important, the use of this federal money makes perfect sense. Student loan debt places an immense burden on educators. The ATF conducted polling that found about half of licensed educators in APS are strapped with student loan debt. The average debt of the respondents was around $40,000. With ARPA funds still available, there are plenty of reasons to continue the program, and no reason at all to end it.
The ATF collected testimonials from reimbursement recipients about how this money will positively impact their families, their dedication to professional development, and their choice remain APS employees. Here’s what a few of them had to say:
“This will lift a huge burden off our month-to-month financial strain, in addition to helping me to move forward on finally working on National Boards. My family and I are grateful.”- ATF Member Ryan Morris, Sandia HS
“I am extremely grateful for this reimbursement. I am a mother of three young children and every dime in our home is accounted for each paycheck. This brings a little light at the end of a difficult school year.”- ATF Member Justine Barca-Garcia, La Cueva HS
“Wow! The impact will be huge! I will use the money to pay toward student loans. I have 2 master’s degrees in education and 3 certifications in hard-to-fill positions. It was expensive for me to go to school. I feel appreciated for what I bring to students and the district.”- ATF Member Loralie Bustos Aragon, Coronado ES
We sincerely hope that the district will stand with educators and ask the APS Board to continue providing help to the educators who work with our students every day. Our district and union have a great history of working collaboratively. Together we can advocate for this opportunity to help the educators who work with our students every day.