TEACH Grants failed 1 in 3 recipients

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The federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education Grant program helps would-be teachers pay for their education. In return, they commit to teaching subjects like math or science in a low-income school district for four years. If they don’t complete their service within eight years, then the federal grant is converted to a loan and the teacher is on the hook to pay back the government with interest.

The TEACH program was meant to help promising teachers avoid debt for a bachelor’s or master’s degree and to ensure low-income communities have the educators they need. But NPR reports that the program has failed many of its participants; thousands of teachers have discovered that their grants were converted to loans, mostly because of mistakes by the companies hired to manage the process.

TEACH paperwork requirements are also more burdensome than similar programs. Each year, educators must certify they are maintaining their end of the bargain—a process that has led to more opportunity for error.

An audit of borrower records, conducted by the Department of Education earlier this year, reveals that more than 12,000 educators had their grants switched to loans as a result of errors made by the company hired to manage the program. That’s 1 in 3 participants

The Department of Education announced it was launching a plan to help teachers who were wrongly saddled with loans. Teachers who lost their grants can now reapply as long as they are still working in high-need schools. But for many teachers, it’s too little too late. They have left their positions at schools in low-income communities to work in higher-paying school districts—thus, breaking their agreement—so they can pay off these sizable loans the government has wrongly imposed. Some may still have time to uproot their lives and careers to work in eligible districts; for others, that will not be possible because they are too near the close of the qualifying eight-year window. Awareness of the problem will also be an issue: The department has not committed to reaching out to every TEACH Grant participant about these changes.

TEACH Grant recipients can find out their next steps here. If you are an AFT member who received a TEACH Grant, we want to hear from you about your experience. Email Communicator@AFT.org to tell us; by sharing your story, you can help other AFT members navigate this stressful process.

[Elizabeth Sell]