This year we’ve seen a lot of focus on Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education. However, other areas of the government have been making moves that could impact teachers in several ways. Here are three actions you should know about, including net neutrality and tax reform, and what you can do about them.

1. Net Neutrality

What is it?

For years, the Federal Communications Commission has had a set of protections requiring internet service providers to provide equal, unfettered access to websites. These protections are referred to as net neutrality. The repeal of net neutrality, which occurred in mid-December 2017, decreased federal regulation of internet service providers.

How could it affect education or educators?

Most people oppose the repeal of net neutrality because of the potential impact in accessing favorite websites, but education could be the biggest loser here.

Teachers have increasingly begun to rely on the internet for resources, and districts have begun to phase out hard copy textbooks. Any internet deregulation could result in slower internet speeds for important education resources. At worst, it could eliminate access to resources at the discretion of the service provider.

Most likely, systems will experience increased cost if internet service providers begin to charge for specific websites. We could also see an increase in the technology divide if students from lower socio-economic groups find that their parents have to choose which websites they can afford to access.

What can you do?

There’s no legislation directly protecting access to the internet. If retaining access to the internet that is not regulated by private entities is an important cause, educators (and all other constituents) can contact their legislators and request that work begins on legislation to protect net neutrality.


2. Tax Reform

What is it?

Each December, Congress crafts new tax legislation, a time of year one legislator calls “Taxmas.” December 2017’s legislation overhauls the system in a number of ways, some of which have a direct influence on educators.

How could it affect education/educators?

A major change in the deduction and exemption structure impacts school systems, from the payroll department to substitute teachers. The Senate’s removal of the requirement that individuals adhere to purchasing insurance compliant with the Affordable Care Act or face a tax penalty could help lower-wage school employees.

The proposal to eliminate student loan interest, teacher spending deductions, and tax graduate school tuition waivers did not make it to the final bill, but it could have implications for future tax reform. Once Congress reveals its compromise bill, potential changes are likely extreme enough that every employee across the nation, including those in public education, will want and need to revise their W2s.

What can you do?

Tax reform was a major tenet of the sitting president’s and many Republican legislators’ recent campaigns. Until midterm elections in 2018, voters cannot do much to voice their desires regarding taxation. The most important action is educating yourself on the new tax rules, as they become available, to make the best financial choices for your family.


What is it?

The PROSPER Act is a bill in the House of Representatives that could overhaul the Higher Education Act. Specifically, it makes huge changes to federal financial aid for college students, from the way schools award and disperse aid to the way that students pay it back. PROSPER creates a single grant (by reauthorizing the PELL grant), loan (called Federal ONE), and work-study system. It also dials back some of the limitations the Obama administration placed on for-profit universities. In addition, it removes some definitions related to credit hours that prevented degree mills.

How could it affect education/educators?

The biggest direct impact is on educators planning to pursue a graduate degree. Work-study, once available to graduate students, will only be offered to undergraduates. The Federal ONE loan system will have higher aggregate loan amounts, so paying for school up front will become easier.

The real issue, however, is the elimination of student loan forgiveness. New borrowers—and potentially all new loans issued after Congress passes this bill (if they do)—would no longer be eligible for loan forgiveness after 10 years of qualifying loan payments, the current standard for public service professions, such as teaching. Income-based repayment will still exist at a rate of 15% of discretionary income.

The bill requires that the amount repaid cannot exceed the total amount that would be repaid in a standard plan. As a result, the scenario exists that some teachers could be paying on their student loans for life. This could also be a deterrent for those considering pursuing graduate degrees because the return on the investment would be considerably less. Outside of income-based repayment, the bill does not mention the other teacher loan forgiveness incentives. Thus, there remains a question about whether these incentives will remain intact. Loans dispersed prior to this bill will see no change. PROSPER, if passed, will begin affecting loans dispersed after June 2018 at the earliest.

What can you do?

To voice your opinion, contact your House representative ASAP. The bill has just made its way out of committee. With just a 23-17 committee vote in favor, it is likely to be a contentious bill. Since it is very new to the floor, House members may not have made up their minds about it yet. Also, keep this bill in mind if you are planning to go to graduate school. You may want to consider alternatives to public funding.

For many people, considering the political moves of our government is no fun. But as educators, we must be informed so that we can band together to speak up for ourselves.