Fighting back from default

Montanans no longer lose their licenses if they default on student loans

Thanks to legislation championed by Moffie Funk, a self-proclaimed “proud member of the MEA-MFT” and a member of the state’s House of Representatives, Montana has repealed a law that stripped people of their professional and driver’s licenses if they defaulted on their student loans. Montana was one of nearly two dozen states with license revocation laws on the books; now there is one fewer.

The license revocation laws are counterintuitive, says Funk, who teaches middle school at Montana City School in tiny Clancy, Mont.—population 1,661. “It was taking away the very means to make the money to pay back the loans,” she says of the Montana law. “It’s really so punitive; the punishment definitely doesn’t fit the crime.”

License revocation laws can strip attorneys, teachers, nurses and others who require licenses of their ability to work in their field of expertise. Even barbers and hair dressers are affected in some cases. In Tennessee, more than 40 nurses nearly lost their jobs—which would have left hospitals seriously understaffed—when the state threatened to revoke their licenses for loan default. “Imagine if all of these nurses and teachers who had received letters in the mail saying they were losing their licenses had instead received notices that they could actually have their student debt forgiven,” writes Chris Hicks at Jobs with Justice, a nonprofit that has been working hard to repeal license revocation laws across the nation. “Imagine if the 8 million student debtors currently in default and having their wages, Social Security and tax returns garnished had instead received information about tying their monthly payment to their incomes to make payments affordable.”

Funk believes the high pricetag for higher education should come down, so students don’t have to go into debt to attend college. “Everybody who wants to go to college should get to go,” she says. “Nobody should be prevented from going because they can’t afford it.”

Two states, Iowa and Oklahoma, can still take away driver’s licenses for loan default. States that can revoke professional licenses—in some cases, including teaching and nursing licenses—are Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

AFT On Campus, Fall 2015 Download PDF (2.24 MB)
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