‘Like a weight of rocks has been lifted off my back:’ Nevada teacher thanks Biden for erasing student debt

From left to right, Las Vegas teacher Tillie Torres, Assemblywoman Selena Torres (D-Las Vegas), Assemblywoman Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas) and state Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) pose for a photo behind a Nevada for Biden sign at a Biden campaign office in Las Vegas.

By Casey Harrison

April 23, 2024

As the Biden-Harris campaign seeks to court educators, one Las Vegas teacher says she had $60,000 in loans forgiven by the president’s executive action.

This time last year, Las Vegas teacher Tillie Torres thought she would never pay off her student loan debt.

Torres, 54, told The Nevadan on Monday she graduated college more than 30 years ago and had left school with roughly $42,000 in loans. For years, Torres said, she made on-time payments even while enduring “a couple” fights with cancer, as well as raising a family.

But despite making those payments, interest continued to accrue on those loans until the amount Torres owed swelled to $87,000, she said. Torres said she paid more than $60,000 on her loans before executive action taken from President Joe Biden erased her remaining balance.

“I thought I was going to die with that debt,” said Torres, who on Monday met with lawmakers to celebrate the launch of a Biden campaign program that seeks to unite educators behind the president’s education record and re-election bid.

MORE: Details on Biden’s newest plan for student debt relief

Torres is one of the nearly 4.3 million Americans who have had a combined estimated $153 billion in loans forgiven under Biden, according to the US Department of Education (DOE).

“I feel like a weight of rocks has been lifted off my back,” Torres continued. “I’m gonna be honest—there was no way I could ever stay ahead of it and pay it.”

Other attendees at Monday’s kickoff event contrasted Biden’s education record with that of former President Donald Trump, who is the presumptive Republican nominee to face Biden in November. They highlighted Biden’s signing of a major gun safety bill, the Safer Communities Act, which invested in student mental health and provides incentives for states to pass red flag laws and expand background checks, while Trump and other conservatives have threatened to dissolve the DOE if elected.

“Donald Trump stood with the NRA (National Rifle Association) and opposed common sense gun safety efforts in office and is pushing for more guns in the classroom,” said Assemblywoman Brittney Miller (D-Las Vegas).

Miller was referring to a proposal by some conservatives to arm teachers as a way to mitigate school shootings.

“It is not OK to expect teachers to be armed and it is not OK to expect teachers to take a bullet,” Miller, who’s a teacher for the Clark County School District, continued. “It is not OK to expect students to live under continual fear and trauma about which day their life will be shortened while they’re sitting in their classroom.”

State Sen. Marilyn Dondero Loop (D-Las Vegas) said Biden’s first-term agenda helped stimulate the state budget and allowed for lawmakers last year to invest a record $12 billion in the state’s public K-12 system.

Over Biden’s first term, more than $170 billion has been allotted to bolster K-12 programs nationwide, Dondero Loop said, which has allowed school districts to invest in initiatives to attract and maintain teachers.

Biden also signed into law the CHIPS Act, which aims to bolster domestic computer microchip manufacturing and expand workforce development in STEM fields. But all of those programs and more could also see significant turnover, should Trump win in November, Dondero Loop said.

“This is important because I have five grandchildren in school,” said Dondero Loop, who chairs the legislative subcommittee for K-12 funding. “So I know how important it is for our entire United States to stay focused on education.”

  • Casey Harrison

    Casey Harrison is political correspondent for The Nevadan. Previously, he covered politics and the Oakland Athletics' relocation to Southern Nevada for the Las Vegas Sun, and before that, was a digital producer at The Detroit News. Casey graduated from Michigan State University in 2019.

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