I want to draw your attention to two important things that happened this week.
The first is that earlier this week, on behalf of K-12 teachers and ESP, I called on local school districts to use some of the federally provided Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER III) monies that they have received to offer paid COVID leave for their employees.
North Dakota received some $275.5M in ESSER III funds and putting a small portion of that into paid COVID leave makes sense.
By and large, teachers have done the right things. Nationally, almost 90% of teachers have received a COVID vaccine. Teachers have practiced healthy hand hygiene and masked up, too. Still, we know teachers, by virtue of teaching in environments where children are not vaccinated, are contracting the Coronavirus, specifically the highly contagious Delta variant.
By law, every school district must offer 10 days of paid sick leave though some have negotiated 12 days of paid sick leave with their teachers.
In many cases, an employee that contracts the virus must quarantine for 10 days, whether they are symptomatic or not. But what happens when a K-12 employee contracts a normal illness and needs time away to recover? Or to care for a child who has the virus and cannot attend school?
Without paid COVID leave, that individual must take unpaid leave and that is just not fair. You can hear me discuss this topic with Joel Heitkamp.
The second thing is very good news from the US Department of Education.
The USDE announced what it is calling, “. . . an overhaul of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program that it will implement over the next year to make the program live up to its promise. This policy will result in 22,000 borrowers who have consolidated loans—including previously ineligible loans—being immediately eligible for $1.74 billion in forgiveness without the need for further action on their part.” This is very good news for public servants.
As you’ll recall, Public Service Loan Forgiveness is a federal program that promised student loan borrowers that if they went into public service and made 120 monthly payments for 10 years, their remaining loans would be forgiven.
But because of extremely confusing rules, misleading information from servicers, forced loan consolidation into ineligible loan programs, and inane disqualifications, fewer than 2 percent of eligible borrowers have received loan forgiveness.
For years now, both the NEA and AFT have implored the USDE to fix these administrative errors so that more folks needing student debt relief could utilize the plan. That relief is on the way.
From the USDE press release: “Federal Student Aid will make more information available to borrowers at www.StudentAid.gov/PSLFWaiver.
In the coming weeks and months, the Department will communicate directly with borrowers about these changes to PSLF to help borrowers understand how they may benefit and any actions they may need to take. Borrowers should ensure that they have accounts on www.StudentAid.gov and that their contact information there is up to date.”
That’s it for now. Thank you for your membership in ND United! Here’s to a great weekend.
Nick Archuleta, NDU President