Key Policy Letters Signed by the Education Secretary or Deputy Secretary
March 2006
Archived Information

March 2006

Dear Colleague:

The purpose of this letter is to make you aware of federal benefits that are available to certain teachers. In our continuing efforts to ensure that schools are able to attract and retain qualified teachers, President George W. Bush signed the "Higher Education Reconciliation Act of 2005" ("HERA") on February 8. The Act makes permanent certain teacher loan forgiveness provisions included in the Taxpayer-Teacher Protection Act of 2004, which President Bush signed on October 30, 2004. In addition, the HERA expands the loan forgiveness program to teachers employed in nonprofit private schools.

The HERA authorizes up to $17,500 in student loan forgiveness for certain full-time secondary school teachers of mathematics or science who meet the "highly qualified" teacher definition under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The HERA also authorizes up to $17,500 in student loan forgiveness for certain highly qualified full-time elementary and secondary school special education teachers whose primary responsibility is to provide special education to children with disabilities (as those terms are defined in Section 602 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). To qualify, a special education teacher must be teaching children with disabilities that correspond to the teacher’s special education training and must have demonstrated knowledge and teaching skills in the content areas of the elementary or secondary school curriculum in which he or she is teaching.

Effective July 1 of this year, the HERA expands the loan forgiveness program to teachers who are exempt from state certification and employed in nonprofit private schools. The HERA provides that an individual who is employed as a teacher in a nonprofit private school and is exempt from state certification requirements may have such employment qualify for the loan forgiveness program if the teacher can demonstrate rigorous subject knowledge and skills by taking competency tests in the applicable grade levels and subject areas. The HERA requires that the competency tests be recognized by five or more states for the purpose of fulfilling the highly qualified teacher requirements under NCLB, and that the score achieved by a teacher on each test equal or exceed the average passing score of those five states. The HERA makes no change for private school teachers who are subject to state certification and who meet the "highly qualified" teacher definition under NCLB; they will continue to qualify for student loan forgiveness to the extent they meet the eligibility requirements.

Teachers who do not teach in the specialties noted above and began teaching after October 30, 2004, may be eligible for up to $5,000 in student loan forgiveness, so long as they meet the "highly qualified" teacher definition under NCLB or, effective July 1, 2006, meet the requirements set forth in the HERA for private school teachers, and meet the eligibility requirements set forth below. Teachers who began their teaching service prior to October 30, 2004, continue to qualify for up to $5,000 in student loan forgiveness and are not required to meet the "highly qualified" teacher definition.

Teacher Loan Forgiveness Eligibility Rules Applicable to All Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) and Federal Direct Loan Program Borrowers

The following rules apply to all applicants for Teacher Loan Forgiveness benefits:

  • A teacher seeking student loan forgiveness must be a new borrower, which is defined as a borrower who did not have an outstanding balance on a FFEL or Direct Loan on October 1, 1998, or on the date the borrower obtained a FFEL or Direct Loan after October 1, 1998.
  • Eligible loans include Federal Stafford Loans (subsidized and unsubsidized); Federal Direct Stafford/Ford Loans (Direct Subsidized Loans); Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford/Ford Loans (Direct Unsubsidized Loans); and any portion of a Federal Consolidation Loan or Federal Direct Consolidation Loan that was used to pay off one of these eligible loans.
  • The loan cannot be in a default status.
  • A teacher must have taught for five consecutive complete academic years in an eligible, low-income school. A low-income school is an elementary or secondary school that:
  • is in a school district that qualifies for funds under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended;
  • has been selected by the Secretary based on a determination that more than 30 percent of the school’s total enrollment is made up of children from low-income families; and
  • is listed in the annual Directory of Designated Low-Income Schools for Teacher Cancellation Benefits. (See the link for “Low-Income School Search” and other information at /english/cancelperk.jsp?tab=repaying.)

I encourage you to provide this information to all current and prospective teachers who may be eligible for these benefits. Applications are available from the lender or servicer of the teacher's outstanding student loan in the FFEL program. Applications are available from the Direct Loan Servicer if the teacher has a Federal Direct Loan. More information on repaying student loans and on the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program is available at /english/cancelstaff.jsp?tab=repaying. If you have questions concerning these requirements and benefits, please contact the Federal Student Aid Information Center (FSAIC) at 1-800-4-FED-AID.

  Margaret Spellings


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Last Modified: 03/31/2006