Local Officers Discuss Student Loan Strategies with NPR Station

Fayetteville public radio station KUAF broadcast a discussion on how the National Education Association is helping members strategize student loan debt.

Pete Hartman, KUAF operations manager and host of its “Community Spotlight” interviewed Local 965 President Bret Schulte and Secretary Ben Pollock for the May 17, 2022, edition of his “Community Spotlight” series.

The 4:44 interview should play on most digital devices.

They were promoting a webinar to be livestreamed 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 19. Renee Johnson, UniServ representative for the Arkansas Education Association, will lead the Zoom session for UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 and other NEA locals including Fayetteville Education Association, Bentonville Education Association, Springdale Education Association, Rogers Education Association, and smaller AEA chapters such as Huntsville’s and Mountain Home’s.

The NEA program focuses on federal college loans and specifically on the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. That plan, which ends in several months, is for any employee of a public organization including workers in any government and some nonprofits. NEA here is helping employees in public education – from K-12 to higher ed and from teachers and professors to support staff.

All educators in Arkansas are invited to the webinar. Further details are at “Webinar May 19: Drop Your Debt.”

Local 965 President Bret Schulte and 965 Secretary Ben Pollock meet with students at the Aug. 25, 2021, Razorbash information fair on the Fayetteville campus.
Local 965 President Bret Schulte (left) and 965 Secretary Ben Pollock meet with students at the Aug. 25, 2021, Razorbash information fair on the Fayetteville campus.

Webinar May 19: Drop Your Debt

Free Zoom Hour on Federal Loan Forgiveness

5:30 p.m. Thursday, May 19, via Zoom

Many public service employees — you bet that includes staff and faculty of public universities and teachers and staff of public schools — are eligible for forgiveness of our federal student loan debts. But there are hoops — it is complicated!

We are hosting a free webinar on a free program of the National Education Association that eases the way through the loan forgiveness process 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 19, 2022. You do not need to be an NEA member to livestream the forum. Everyone is welcome!

Renee Johnson, UniServ representative for the Arkansas Education Association, will lead the Zoom session for UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 and other NEA locals including Fayetteville Education Association, Bentonville Education Association, Springdale Education Association, Rogers Education Association, and smaller AEA chapters such as Huntsville’s and Mountain Home’s.

Logs for the National Education Assocation and the Savi company

Easing the burden of student loans — even out-and-out debt forgiveness — is available right now to all of us working in public education.

Leading among NEA member benefits is the NEA Student Debt Navigator neamb.com/Savi, powered by Savi Solutions, which helps members better manage all types of student loans. The chief feature is Savi’s team of financial experts standing by for personal, one-on-one consultations with NEA members.

The ideal option of course is ending one’s debt with loan forgiveness. If you are an educator or other public-service worker repaying a federal student loan, several programs are available, depending on the type of loan and one’s current status. Savi can help with various student loans; many are eligible for refinancing, deferment or consolidation. Besides U of A faculty from tenured professors through instructors, the program is available to staff who are or become 965 members.

Last October, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona modified the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, following an email campaign of tens of thousands of messages from NEA members. (The Trump administraton had denied 98 percent of the applications.) Deadline warning: The Cardona waiver ends Oct. 31, 2022.

The NEA Student Debt Navigator is a subscription program where the first year of service is free to us NEA union members, if they sign up by October 2022. Besides online software including a calculator, the subscription includes electronic form filing, cloud storage for documents, and personal phone or chat assistance from Savi’s debt experts. Savi also shares its tools and advice with NEA members who hold non-federal loans.

Wait: Doesn’t union membership mean monthly dues? Yup, but consider:

Those monthly loan couponsYour money’s worth: NEA, AEA and Local 965
Remaining loan balances in the $$ thousandsAnnual dues: ~$300 from staffers to $615 from tenured profs
How many years remaining to take balance to zeroSavor other NEA benefits — but our real deal: Returning our power back to us!

We’ve gathered other information on the NEA/Savi program at “Student Loan Forgiveness — A New U of A Labor Union Perk” that answers more questions.

We are asking UA employees — especially non-members — to complete this 2-minute survey. The data gathered inform AEA and NEA to further build higher education resources in Arkansas.

Student Loan Forgiveness—A New U of A Labor Union Perk

Join Your Labor Union, Drop Your Debt

By Ben Pollock, 965 secretary

Easing the burden of student loans — even out-and-out debt forgiveness — is available to all of us working in public education right now.

Members of the UA-Fayetteville Education Association / Local 965 are eligible for all benefits of the National Education Association. New among those is the NEA Student Debt Navigator neamb.com/Savi, powered by Savi Solutions, which helps members better manage all types of student loans. Besides its online calculator, the chief feature is that Savi’s team of financial experts is standing by for personal, one-on-one consultations with NEA members.

The ideal option of course is ending one’s debt with loan forgiveness. If you are an educator or other public-service worker with a federal student loan, several programs are available, depending on the type of loan and one’s current status. Savi can help with various student loans; many are eligible for refinancing, deferment or consolidation. Besides U of A faculty from tenured professors through instructors, the program is available to staffers who are 965 members.

Staff, whom the NEA calls “education service professionals” or ESPs, serve a wide variety of functions on campus:

  • clerical services
  • custodial and maintenance services
  • food services
  • health and student services
  • paraeducators
  • security services
  • skilled trades
  • technical services
  • transportation services

Just last October, U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona modified the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, following an email campaign of more than 48,000 messages from NEA members. (The Trump administraton had denied 98 percent of the applications.) Deadline warning: The Cardona waiver ends Oct. 31, 2022.

Logo for Savi Solutions PBC

The NEA Student Debt Navigator is a subscription program where the first year of service is free to us NEA union members, if they sign up by October 2022. Besides the online software, the subscription includes electronic form filing, cloud storage for documents, and personal phone or chat assistance from Savi’s debt experts. Savi also shares its tools and advice to those holding non-federal loans.

Wait: Doesn’t union membership mean monthly dues? Yes, you do have to pay to play, so to speak. But reconsider your numbers, please. These loans after years of repayments still have many thousands of dollars due. Then, Local 965 membership for full-time faculty members is $615 a year and staff employees pay $300.48 a year. Sign up at arkansas965.org/join. Or ask questions at uarkansas965@gmail.com.

Source List

Many details of this program — including multimedia files and an extensive FAQ list — can be found at the NEA article “Navigate Your Student Debt: NEA’s Student Debt Experts Have Created Tools Designed to Help Educators through the Complicated Student Debt System.”

NEA has published other articles on the topic as well:

Thanks to Bret Schulte and Kim Martin for editing.

A "celengan babi," Indonesian for piggy bank
A “celengan babi,” Indonesian for piggy bank. Photos from Wikimedia Commons

Let’s Get Ahead on Protocols

Jan. 10, 2022, op-ed version of our statement “Stay the Course on Covid? Far from Enough

A medical cotton bud or swab

Should the University of Arkansas just “stay the course”? Its union, UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965, rejects the leadership’s plan, announced Jan. 6, to “stay the course” from the last six months of 2021 for the first part of the new year. Their plan is despite a crush of active covid-19 cases in Arkansas — more than 44,000 as of Jan. 6, yet climbing as preK-12 and post-secondary schools reopen for spring semester.

The masking and social-distancing rules for students and employees that began mid-June 2021 proved to be insufficient. That they have been essentially unenforced demonstrates at best misplaced priorities.

The Jan. 6 announcement from Interim Chancellor Charles Robinson, Interim Provost Terry Martin and UAPD Capt. for Emergency Management Matt Mills acknowledges that other campuses in Arkansas are either delaying the resumption of classes or teaching online initially, according to a Jan. 6 Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article.

The statement details how UA will be “staying the course” of fall semester including (1) in-person instruction beginning as scheduled Tuesday, Jan. 18, (2) an indoor masking mandate unless a minimum of 6 feet between individuals is maintained, and (3) to “strongly encourage” a full course of vaccinations. The university will continue a policy of 10 days of isolation or quarantine for infected individuals.

“Strongly encouraged” isn’t getting the job done.

While the UA mandates masks on the Fayetteville campus, the faculty and staff have found enforcement to be nearly impossible. Some students openly defied faculty requests to wear masks; others brought food and drink to classrooms as excuses to keep their masks down from their mouths. For many faculty members, the lack of real enforcement tools made any attempt to police the mandate impossible while wasting valuable teaching time. Furthermore, the university granted a loophole, insisting that a mask was required only if 6-foot social distancing was not possible. The result was confusion in classrooms, hallways and buildings such as Mullins Library, which became a virtual mask-free zone to the dismay of many employees.

“The indoor mask mandate should be made absolute, eliminating the ‘where social distancing can’t be maintained’ wiggle room,” one professor said. Many students seem to interpret this to mean they have to wear their masks in classrooms but nowhere else indoors. So one encounters unmasked snifflers and heavy breathers in restrooms, on crowded stairways and elsewhere.”

The University of Arkansas can and must do better. As a vaccination mandate continues to be considered unviable for the campus, other measures up to that point must be enacted.

  • The “where social distancing cannot be maintained” loophole must be removed.
  • More coronavirus testing stations are needed on campus.
  • Masks and disinfectants should be available not merely upon request but stocked in every classroom.
  • More inducements for vaccination should be created.
  • Ban food and drink from academic buildings, including Mullins Library, except for offices and facilities such as break rooms.
  • More support from administrators and campus police to enforce the masking mandate by removing the non-compliant.
  • Faculty and staff at greatest risk must be allowed — with minimal delays in paperwork — to work remotely until the wave of covid-19 infections subside.

The University of Arkansas boasted Jan. 6 of its 11th-in-the-nation ranking from Newsweek for its online degree programs, yet the administration refused to allow faculty the choice to teach remotely for the fall 2021 semester, frequently citing the argument that ours is not a virtual campus.

Yet in the initial throes of the pandemic, the university moved to online learning in March 2020, continuing through May 2021. The University of Arkansas can go virtual and does go virtual — quite well — when virtual learning suits its purposes. Now, the purpose is more urgent than ratings and tuition dollars. The priority is to keep our campus safe and healthy. As Newsweek pointed out, the University of Arkansas can do that while still delivering a 5-star education.


Bret Schulte is president and Ben Pollock secretary of UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965. Schulte is an associate professor and Pollock a web manager on campus.

Stay the Course on Covid? Far from Enough

UA-Fayetteville Education Association/Local 965 rejects the University of Arkansas’s newly announced plan to “stay the course” from the last six months, despite an unprecedented crush of active Covid-19 cases in Arkansas — more than 44,000 as of Jan. 6, and climbing. Staying the course amounts to continuing the mask mandate on campus — a mandate that faculty and staff have found nearly impossible to enforce.

Some students openly defied faculty requests to wear masks; others brought food and drink to classrooms as excuses to keep their masks down from their mouths. For many faculty members, the lack of real enforcement tools made any attempt to police the mandate impossible, while wasting valuable teaching time. Furthermore, the university granted a loophole, insisting that a mask was required only if social distancing was not possible. The result was confusion in classrooms, hallways, and buildings such as Mullins Library, which became a virtual mask-free zone to the dismay of many employees.

The University of Arkansas can and must do better:

  • The “where social distancing cannot be maintained” loophole must be removed.
  • More coronavirus testing stations are needed on campus.
  • Masks and disinfectants should be available not merely upon request but stocked in every classroom.
  • More inducements for vaccination should be created.
  • Food and drink be banned from academic buildings, including Mullins Library, except for offices and facilities such as break rooms.
  • More support from administrators and campus police to enforce the masking mandate by removing the non-compliant.
  • Faculty and staff at greatest risk must be allowed — with minimal delays in paperwork — to work remotely until the wave of Covid-19’s omicron variant subsides.

The University of Arkansas this week boasted of its ranking from Newsweek for its online degree programs in the announcement “U of A Ranks 11th in Nation in First Newsweek Survey of Online Students,” yet the administration refused to allow faculty the choice to teach remotely for the fall 2021 semester, frequently citing the specious argument that ours is not a virtual campus.

Yet in the initial throes of the pandemic, the university moved to online learning in March 2020, continuing through May 2021. The University of Arkansas can go virtual and does go virtual — quite well — when virtual learning suits its purposes. Now, the purpose is more urgent than ratings and tuition dollars. The purpose is to keep our campus safe and healthy. And as Newsweek pointed out, the University of Arkansas can do that while still delivering a 5-star education.

New York Times coronavirus chart for Jan. 7, 2022
The New York Times updates its county-by-county Covid statistics several times a week. This is the Jan. 7, 2022, data snapshot.

For immediate release. For information contact Professor Bret Schulte, Local 965 president.