How hard is it to get student loan forgiveness?

MADISON, Wis. – A retired Madison educator is demanding action over a federal loan waiver issue – the pending question of whether she qualifies to be a teacher.

Christy Donovan retired from the Madison Metropolitan School District last summer, but you wouldn’t know with all the homework she’s still doing. On her coffee table is a two-inch-thick file with documents detailing her years of work trying to forgive some of her student loans. She showed us the application for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program and took a good chunk of that duty.

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

Donovan’s student loans come from her Masters in Education, which she used to help obtain a license from the Department of Public Instruction as required by MMSD. She spent 20 years in the district before retiring last year.

If all of these facts lead you to believe that Donovan is a school teacher, that title depends on who you ask — and it turns out that definition matters a lot when it comes to her college debt.

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

Donovan is a trained physical therapist. During her two decades with the district, she says, she spent her days creating plans for and providing functional instruction for students with disabilities, as well as supporting their education in other classrooms.

“We teach functional skills,” she reiterated. “We don’t teach academics, but there are many hired teachers who don’t teach academics.”

Years ago, Donovan inquired about the state’s Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program and was told that she did not qualify as a PT. Then, during a meeting with colleagues through her union, Madison Teachers, Inc., a district occupational therapist told her that they had received forgiveness through the same program.

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

Under the Loan Waiver Program application, a teacher’s employer must certify that, to the best of the employer’s knowledge, the applicant was a teacher under the program. Requirements include a bachelor’s degree, state accreditation as a teacher, and others – you can read the full list here.

Over the past several years, Donovan says HR professionals at MMSD have given her a handful of reasons why she has not certified her employment with the district. The last reason they gave News 3 Now was that she misidentified as a special education teacher and not a PT. However, the filing doesn’t give Donovan room 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.

“It could all be resolved with a phone call,” Donovan said.

It’s something federal officials have been proposing with the loan program –– a 3-way phone call between Donovan, the district, and themselves. Donovan has been asking the district for this call for months. You didn’t get back to her until we chimed in and eventually agreed to start this conversation.

“I don’t ask for any money [from the district,]’ Donovan said. “Just to confirm I work there so I can apply for a loan forgiveness. And then when they reject me, they reject me.”

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