Property taxes. Charter schools versus public schools. In Monroe County, the debate rages on. But there is an education issue that may have deeper ramifications in Pennsylvania: student loan debt.


Pennsylvania needs to address the student loan debt crisis before it’s too late. The ripple effects will impact multiple aspects of the state’s economy.


After hitting an all-time high of $1.5 trillion in 2019, the average U.S. household with student debt owes $47,671, according to Nerdwallet. When you shift the focus to Pennsylvania, those numbers hurt even more, with at least $36,000 in debt per resident.


Pennsylvania lawmakers are not unfamiliar with this plight. The state has already tried to ease the burden for emergency responders and disabled veterans, and Gov. Tom Wolf has addressed student loan debt earned by Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education school graduates, but where does that leave the rest of Pennsylvania’s debt-laden borrowers?


A lot of borrowers — millennials, their parents and co-signers — aren’t looking for loan forgiveness, they’re looking for repayment options that are more humane.


Two bills announced in Harrisburg Tuesday aim to ease the strain of student loan debt while allowing borrowers to pay down the debt fairly.


State Sen. Ryan P. Aument (R-36) introduced Senate Bills 1042 and 1043, which would allow borrowers in Pennsylvania to have brighter financial futures— and it isn’t a bail out.


SB 1042 would create a Student Loan Retirement Agreement Program, allowing borrowers to repay student loans through the use of Income Share Agreements.


Under the ISA, a participant would agree to pay a fixed share of their income for a set period of time in order to pay off their student loan debt. There are stipulations: a Pennsylvania residency requirement, degree completion and a requirement in which applicants are already paying down their loans.


To put this into perspective, statistics show that millennials have the most student debt, followed closely by their parents. The average student loan borrower pays $393 per month, according to the Federal Reserve. That’s pretty steep considering average rents in Monroe County are just over $1,000 per month, and per capita income is about $28,000 per year. With even the most basic expenses out of reach, it’s taking longer for the generation to move out and move on. Who picks up the bill when student borrowers can’t? Parents are finding their wages garnished or tax returns seized if their children can’t keep up.


Tax revenues or new debt are unnecessary under the plan. The program would be funded by a revolving line of credit using existing funds managed by the state treasurer and administered by the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.


The second bill, SB 1043, would establish the Higher Education Income Share Financing Pilot Program, in which current students could contract with their school to pay a fixed percentage of their future income for a set period of time in exchange for having all or a portion of the cost of their education paid for.


Both bills are awaiting referral to committee for consideration, but it could be quite some time before the bills are ready for a vote. And we are likely to see more versions of the bill before that to address issues like abusing the program and how the plan will really be paid for. Aument’s bills do nothing for the students who weren’t able to finish their degree, but are still looking at thousands in student loan debt. The plan outlined by Aument’s bills may be imperfect, but at least it’s a plan.


The sooner graduates can enter into a payment plan that doesn’t leave them destitute, the faster they can start planning towards their American Dream. Pennsylvania can’t afford to wait, and the Poconos can’t afford to wait either.


— The Pocono Record