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April 8, 2024

PHILADELPHIA-- On Monday afternoon, members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers were honored to join Vice President Kamala Harris for a roundtable discussion on the Biden-Harris administration's efforts to relieve student debt. In addition to $146 Billion in debt already forgiven, the Biden-Harris administration on Monday proposed additional changes that AFT President Randi Weingarten called "a lifechanging intervention."

Following a thrilling experience for Cramp Elementary students who greeted the Vice President upon her arrival in Philadelphia (and watched the eclipse!), Vice President Harris traveled to Cramp to host a roundtable discussion on student debt relief. 

Prior to the roundtable, PFT President Jerry T. Jordan was able to speak to Vice President Harris to share how important student debt relief is to our members and to thank her for her deep commitment to this issue. Jordan later attended the roundtable with members.

Jordan remarked:

"I was delighted to greet Vice President Harris this afternoon and thank her on behalf of so many of our members that have had their debt forgiven thanks to the relentless work of the Biden-Harris administration. Investing in educators goes hand-in-glove with investing in the young people they teach. Our students thrive when our educators are supported. I am grateful not only to the tremendous work of the Biden-Harris administration, but also to our national union and AFT President Randi Weingarten for being at the forefront of this years-long effort."

Featured at the roundtable discussion hosted by Vice President Kamala Harris, moderated by WURD's Tonya Pendleton and joined by Congressman Dwight Evans, were two members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, Beth Whelan and Tonya Cabeza, alongside AFSCME DC47 member Kelli Gray.

In her prepared remarks, Richmond Elementary School nurse Beth Whelan lauded the Biden-Harris administration's efforts and the $65,000 in loan forgiveness she received as a result. Whelan shared:

"Recently, I lost my father. And I will never forget a conversation I had with him shortly before his death. He asked me if I was going to be ok financially. I’d just gotten word that $65,000 in loans had been completely zeroed out. I owed nothing more. And I told him that. The relief I saw in his eyes was everything. I wanted him to have that sense of peace, to know that I’d be ok. And now, I am caring for my mother, and this summer will actually be the first summer that I’ve not had to work–and I will be able to tend to her and help support her."

Cramp Elementary School Teacher Leader Tonya Cabeza described the moment she got the news that her debt had been forgiven, and in her prepared remarks noted:  

"Surrounded by my three children, I opened an email that stunned me. I mean stunned. Over $40,000 in student loans that I accrued during my undergraduate and graduate degrees were just– gone. Balance ZERO. The celebration in my kitchen at that moment– I wish you could have seen it. But let me just say we were dancing. We were tearing up. And my children and I knew that our lives had changed at that moment."

Cabeza, the first in her family to go to college, is now able to help her eldest pursue her college education. And she can remain at Cramp, doing the job she absolutely loves.

Cramp Elementary School Building Representative Daniel Fitzsimmons, who helped with countless logistics for the event, was able to speak with the Vice President before the town hall. Fitzsimmons, a 20 year veteran teacher at Cramp Elementary, reflected:

"I’ve never wanted to teach elsewhere, and I’ve wanted to be the very best teacher possible, and I’ve done that by learning from my students and colleagues each day, and I’ve done that by pursuing advanced degrees. But those skills, coupled with remaining undergrad debt, came at a cost. And as I continue to, year after year, support my students with supplies and resources ranging from snacks to pencils to classroom rugs, I’ve always wondered in the back of my mind: how long will I be able to remain a teacher? In my case, that was the $52,000 question. And Vice President Harris and President Biden answered it for me. My loans were zeroed out, and to say that it was an enormous relief was an understatement."

The PFT has been proud to be involved with the Biden-Harris administration's efforts to lower student debt. We were proud to co-host a town hall with AFT and AFT-Pennsylvania featuring Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff, Secretary Miguel Cardona, and AFT President Randi Weingarten, where PFT Associate Secretary Trina Dean told her debt relief story. Further, our members have benefited greatly from the resources and materials we have shared in partnership with our national union. Members across the nation have access to debt clinics, information sessions, and the program Summer, all at no cost to them as members of the American Federation of Teachers. 

Today, we celebrated another milestone in achieving more debt relief for more individuals that dedicate their careers to public service.


Watch a playback of the event here:


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