U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos stopped at Hope Academy in Indianapolis for a tour and round table discussion as part of her Rethink School tour, Sept. 15, 2017. Hear about the addiction recovery school from faculty and parents. Jenna Watson/IndyStar
A federal grant program that was supposed to encourage teachers to work in low-income schools turned into a headache for many recipients when those grants were converted into loans – often over clerical errors or missed paperwork deadlines.
While the U.S. Department of Education is currently working with some of the more than 90,000 teachers who had their TEACH grants converted into loans to return them to grant status, a bipartisan bill co-sponsored by U.S. Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana would codify that process into law.
“The TEACH grant is an important program to incentivize teachers to serve in neglected communities, but 12 years of poor government management has turned these grants into groans for thousands of teachers,” Braun said in a news release Monday. “To show our appreciation for America’s great teachers, let’s get off the sidelines and fix this broken system once and for all.”
The TEACH (Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education) Grant was created in 2007 to provide financial assistance to education students if they committed to serve four years in a high-needs school. Under the program’s terms, grants are converted into loans if service requirements are not met.
94,000 recipients saw their grants turned into loans
According to the Office of Management and Budget, the majority of TEACH Grants are converted into Federal Direct Unsubsidized Stafford Loans, which must be paid back with interest. While 21,000 teachers have completed the program without a conversion, 94,000 recipients have had their grants converted to loans.
While some of those conversions were due to recipients not meeting the service requirements, others were triggered by small paperwork issues. Braun’s office explained that if teachers sent in their annual form one day late, or had other problems, such as a missing date or signature, the grant was converted.
A report released by the education department last year found that 19% of recipients whose grants had been converted to loans didn’t know about the recertification process necessary to keep the grant and 13% reported challenges with the process.
Loan ‘reconsideration’ process would be written into law
The education department announced the reconsideration process for those teachers whose grants had been converted to loans in December and is working through it now. It also made changes to the annual certification process to make it easier and less confusing for teachers.
Writing this reconsideration process into law would ensure that teachers in the future get the same treatment, even if the philosophy or leadership at the education department changes. In her third year, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is one of President Donald Trump’s longest-serving Cabinet members but she recently suggested she may not stay on for another term if Trump is re-elected.
When asked at a recent event with education journalists if she’d do another four years, DeVos said “I’m not sure my husband would be OK with that.”
The Consider Teachers Act is a bipartisan measure, co-sponsored by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat.
“Arizona teachers use TEACH grants to serve Arizona families in low-income schools,” Sinema said. “The government made a promise to those teachers, and our commonsense bill ensures the government honors its obligation.”
Braun’s office is hopeful that, with a Democrat to co-sponsor the bill, it will find traction in Congress. There’s also a chance that the Indiana Republican’s bill could get written into the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, which is in progress now.
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