- After it was revealed that Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grants — which the U.S. Department of Education awarded to aspiring teachers who said they'd work in low-income schools — oftentimes became loans that teachers had to pay back, the department has been working to correct the issues. So far, nearly 2,300 of the roughly 6,000 teachers who have asked for relief have been approved, and fewer than 20 teachers' requests have been denied, NPR reports.
- TEACH Grants were first offered in 2007 with the goal of recruiting aspiring educators to teach in high-needs subjects in high-needs schools for four years within an eight-year period in exchange for help with paying for college. Since then, about 21,000 teachers have fulfilled the teaching requirements, and of the 94,000 who saw their grants turned to loans, many didn't get the money because of minor administrative issues, despite meeting instructional mandates, NPR notes.
- In December, the Education Department announced a fix — it began relaxing paperwork requirements and overhauling the program to make it more flexible and user-friendly. While glitches and communication issues remain, the department is trying to reach out to those who have had their grants unfairly converted, and those who feel they are in this category are urged to reach out for help.
The need to attract good teachers to high-need schools remains relevant across the country. Federal — and some state — governments have developed strategies to attract students to schools that are hard to staff because of high poverty rates and a lack of sufficient resources or supports. The TEACH Grant program, which started in 2007 under a previous administration, had this goal in mind. The program promised to be a win-win; teachers would get a good portion of their student loans paid off, and schools would have access to a wider pool of teacher candidates.
However, this promise fell flat when reports began to emerge about the vast number of grants that were being converted into loans. While some of these conversions occurred because teacher candidates either chose to leave the profession or because they make a conscious decision to teach at non-qualifying schools, many conversions also occurred without educators' consent, simply because of confusion over paperwork issues, late submissions or the inability to gain the proper signatures in time for deadlines. By April 2018, NPR reported that thousands of these cases had emerged.
A main result was stress and devastation for teachers who were suddenly saddled with unexpected debt with little to do to address it. As the issue progressed and gained more attention, it also served to discourage teacher candidates from pursuing teaching at high needs schools — a job which already has trouble recruiting quality talent. And teachers who were already in these schools and had their grants converted into loans had no incentive to stay. In fact, their increased obligations were forcing some of them to actively seek higher-paying situations.
In response to the issue, the Education Department announced in December that it was working to make the program and paperwork easier to navigate. They have also set a new single certification date — Oct. 31 — for all recipients to make the deadline easier to track and at a time when most school leaders should be available to sign needed documents. For teachers who have seen their grants converted into loans, a TEACH Grant Reconsideration process is also available to help in recovering grant funding.