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Public school teachers are getting buried in massive debt, but why?

Being a public school teacher, either for elementary or secondary institutions, is a highly sought-after job. Proof of this is the fact that twice every year, tens of thousands take the Professional Regulation Commission’s licensure examination for teachers.

This is because earning a teaching license is the main requirement when applying for a teaching position in the government. This hiring process lasts for several months and normally attracts hundreds of applicants in school divisions nationwide.

It is easy to see why teaching in a public school can be very appealing. Number one, job security is there. Once you’re hired for a permanent position, you have it until you reach the mandatory retirement age of 65 unless you resign, get promoted, etc. Number two, the salary is pretty much acceptable if you’re single or if you’re married to someone who’s also working: P19,620 a month for Teacher I, P21,387 a month for Teacher II, and P23,257 a month for Teacher III.

Number three, apart from the salary, public school teachers also receive many other financial incentives every year like the midyear bonus (equivalent to one month salary), year-end bonus (also equal to one month salary), performance-based bonus or PBB, the productivity enhancement incentive or PEI, clothing allowance, the so-called “chalk allowance,” as well as the additional monthly bonuses provided by their respective local government units.

loans for public school teachers

Philippine public school teachers are getting buried in massive debt (Credits: https://www.usaid.gov)

However, even against this backdrop, so many teachers are still getting buried in huge debt. In fact, every month, it is still not unusual to see teachers get very little from their salaries because they have to settle their debts first (some as little as P200 per cut-off!). The situation has gotten so out of hand that Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Leonor Briones herself confirmed that public school teachers nationwide now have an accumulated debt of P170 billion to public and private lenders.

Speaking to Philippine News Agency, Briones noted that this figure only accounts for loans availed through legitimate lending institutions. Evidently, there is no way to determine how much teachers owe through informal creditors including their fellow teachers, neighbors, and five-six (5-6) lenders.

Briones said DepEd will soon be launching a financial literacy program in partnership with other civil organizations like the Prudence Foundation. “The goal is to teach them (the teachers) how to invest, how to save,” whe said.

While this can help in the long run, it is apparent that urgent steps needs to be done now to help public school teachers get out of the spiral of debt. For example, Department of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez early this month called on the Landbank of the Philippines and the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) to come up with a refinancing scheme for public school teachers. This is in reaction to a study which revealed 40% of GSIS members who have defaulted on their loans are DepEd employees.

Now, if public school teachers get good pay each month, then why are they still saddled in debt?

1) Newly-hired teachers have to wait for as much as four to six months before they can get their first salaries. There is absolutely no logical reason why the processing of papers between the concerned DepEd division office and the local Civil Service Commission field office can take this long.

While waiting for their first salary, newly-hired teachers especially those who are neither from wealthy families nor holders of big savings accounts are forced to deal with predatory lenders just to make both ends meet. Unfortunately, this isn’t a problem that is unique to DepEd.

2) Barring a promotion or a government-mandated increase, teacher salaries can get stagnant over the years. The difference between the salaries of a Teacher I and a Teacher III can barely be felt when all the deductions are taken into account (income tax, GSIS contributions, etc).

The only sure way to get a salary increase is by being promoted to Master Teacher. However, ascending to MT positions is a very grueling process. Earning an aligned Master’s degree would just be the first step. After that, an applicant needs to apply once more through the division office – this time for the vacant MT positions.

And as any previous or current MT applicant will tell you, the process can be very very political. Given all that, it’s not surprising why so many teachers who actually have Masters degrees end up not seeking promotions.

3) Please recall that early in this article, we have characterized the present salary rate of public school teachers as “pretty much acceptable if you’re single or if you’re married to someone who’s also working.” Now, what if you have a family and has three kids? Or, what if you’re single but your elderly parents and/or other rely on your financial support? That is where the situation can get very problematic.

4) Teachers oftentimes have to shell out big money out of their own pockets to finance learning and teaching materials including books, visual aids, etc. For instance, teachers of vocational courses sometimes have to buy the materials that their students will be using for their activities (e.g. cooking ingredients, et. al.)

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