Division of Training revises problematic scholarship program for lecturers: NPR
Today, new rules come into effect to help aspiring teachers pay college and complete a year-long overhaul of the state’s TEACH grant program – from a bureaucratic bear trap that handicapped thousands of teachers with unfair student loan debt to one that could actually make amends on their fundamental pledge: to help K-12 educators pay for their own education in return for teaching a much-needed subject like math for four years in a low-income community.
“The changes announced today bring much-needed improvements to the TEACH grant,” said US Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. “Respecting and honoring teachers who serve the students with the greatest needs also requires that we ensure that these educators receive the support they deserve from this important federal program without jumping over unnecessary hoops.”
In December 2018, the Ministry of Education under Secretary Betsy DeVos committed to revising the program and published its more flexible revisions last summer. Under the changes that go into effect today, teacher scholarships will no longer automatically convert to loans if they fail to submit annual attestation papers. Instead, teachers at the age of eight, in order to make up for a four-year teaching commitment, only convert their scholarships into loans if the required performance can no longer be achieved.
The rule changes to the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant program were outlined by the U.S. Department of Education almost a year ago, but are only coming into effect today. And they’re the culmination of a story that began several years ago when the Government Accountability Office, followed by an NPR investigation, revealed that the program’s stringent paperwork requirements – what Cardona calls “unnecessary tires” – stumble upon teachers that brought their end of the deal.
Under the old rules of the program, the TEACH scholarships were automatically converted into loans that had to be repaid with interest if a teacher did not submit annual documents documenting their teaching activities at a qualified school on time. Teachers who tried to appeal this conversion received little appeal and said the process was irreversible.
Kaitlyn McCollum was teaching at a Tennessee high school when her TEACH state grants were turned into loans of more than $ 20,000 just because she narrowly missed a paperwork deadline. In spring 2019, her debts were canceled as part of the department’s reorganization.
“We won,” she told NPR. “We raised our voices and they finally heard us. Disbelief followed by a relief like I’ve never felt before.”
While the program’s flaws stretch back to its inception, it was the Trump administration in 2008 that agreed to a remedy and apologized to the teachers.
“We’ve put teachers in a frightening and confusing position who didn’t deserve this stress, this pressure, this financial burden,” said then-incumbent Secretary of State and Assistant Secretary of Education, Diane Auer Jones, NPR in 2019, “It seems to be a trifle, to say, ‘I’m sorry’ but I’m very sorry. And we want to work to fix and correct the problem. “
In August 2020, NPR reported that since the program’s revision began, more than 6,500 educators had successfully applied to convert nearly $ 44 million in loans back into TEACH grants. For teachers who could prove they had already done their compulsory service, their debts were simply canceled. For the teachers still on duty, the move meant they could go back to the contract they had with the department and work on keeping their scholarship.
The new regulations also give teachers more opportunities to pause their service, create a formal review process for any teachers who believe their scholarships have been improperly converted, and expand the scope of the program not only to low-income communities but also to those in need , rural areas where teacher recruitment and retention can be difficult.
The Biden administration wants to expand the TEACH grant and make it more generous. Should Congress pass the American Family Plan, it would increase the scholarship for college junior, senior, and graduate students from $ 4,000 a year to $ 8,000 and make it available to many educators as well. In a press release, the Department of Education said it expected these changes to increase the number of TEACH recipients by more than 50 percent to nearly 40,000 in 2022 – welcome news for school principals in remote and needy communities who are sometimes struggling to attract new talent to the classroom.