How hard is it to get your student loans forgiven?

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MADISON, Wis. — A retired Madison educator calls for action over a federal loan forgiveness issue — the issue under consideration, whether she qualifies as a teacher.

Christy Donovan retired from the Madison Metropolitan School District last summer, but you wouldn’t guess it by all the homework she still does. On his coffee table sits a two-inch-thick folder of documents, detailing years of work trying to get some of his student loans forgiven. She showed us the app for the teacher loan forgiveness program, taking up a good chunk of those thumbs.

“It’s 2 pages, and it’s on an 8-page document where the rest of the pages are explanations of how to apply,” she laughed.

Donovan’s student loans come from her master’s degree in education, which she used to obtain a license from the Department of Public Instruction, as required by MMSD. She spent 20 years with the district before stepping away last year.

If all of these facts lead you to believe that Donovan is a schoolteacher, that title is up to who you ask — and it turns out the definition matters a lot when it comes to her student debt.

“I’m frustrated. It’s silly,” she said. “I think I should have the opportunity that all the other teachers have.”

Donovan is a practicing physiotherapist. In her two decades with the district, she says she spent her days creating plans for students with disabilities and teaching them functional lessons, as well as helping their education in other classrooms.

“We teach functional skills,” she repeated. “We don’t teach academics, but there are a lot of teachers who are hired who don’t teach academics.”

Donovan inquired about the federal teacher loan forgiveness program years ago and was told she did not qualify as a PT. Then, when meeting with co-workers through her union, Madison Teachers, Inc., a district occupational therapist told her they had received forgiveness through the same program.

“This response tells me there needs to be more discussion about what my role is,” Donovan said.

According to the loan forgiveness program application, a teacher’s employer must sign that the applicant was, to the best of his or her knowledge, a teacher as defined in the program. Requirements include a bachelor’s degree, state certification as a teacher, and others — you can read the full list here.

Over the past few years, Donovan says MMSD human resources employees have given him a handful of reasons not to certify his employment with the district. The final reason they gave to News 3 Now – that she had misidentified herself as a specialist teacher instead of a PT. The app, however, does not provide space for Donovan to call himself a physical therapist. Donovan also says it’s not up to the district to decide if she’s eligible — it’s up to the program.

“This could all be solved with a phone call,” Donovan said.

It’s something federal loan program officials suggested – a 3-way phone conversation between Donovan, the district, and themselves. Donovan has been asking the district for this phone call for months. They didn’t get back to her until we got involved, eventually agreeing to set up this conversation.

“I’m not asking for money [from the district,]“said Donovan. “Just to check that I’m working there, so I can apply for loan forgiveness. And then if they turn me down, they turn me down.

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