Frustrated teacher It has been a long standing policy of the US government to provide grants to college students who agree to work in lower-income schools, teaching subjects like math and science to disadvantaged kids in struggling neighborhoods.

These programs offered reasonable compensation for teachers, and ensured that lower-income schools remain staffed by dedicated and competent teachers. However, minor errors are converting these grants to loans, putting thousands of teachers in substantial debt as a result.

Grants Converted without Notice

A study obtained by NPR says that thousands of teachers’ grants may have been converted to loans without the recipient’s knowledge, for something as minor as errors in paperwork. These conversions occurred, even among teachers who met the program’s teaching requirements.

Maggie Webb, an 8th grade teacher in Chelsea, says that she found out one day that her grant was already listed as a loan and was accruing interest. A $4,000 grant has now become a liability amounting to $5,000.

TEACH Grants: What are they?

Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grants are offered to students in college or studying for masters degrees under the condition that they can keep the grant money if they spend 4 years teaching in schools within low-income communities, along with a few minor conditions. If the conditions are not met, the grants convert to loans which the teachers have to pay back, with interest.

However, many teachers are saying that although they have fulfilled all the conditions, they are still being asked to repay the money. In Webb’s case, the department says that she was late in filing her yearly certification form. Teachers in the grant program have to send in a form every year that certifies that they have met the teaching requirements for the program, or that they intend to. Teachers are given 8 years to fulfill the 4 years that the program requires. However, she says that FedLoan, the office that handles the grants, never sent her the paperwork. Webb reached out to FedLoan on time, and managed to mail a form within the deadline.

However, the department never received her form, so she mailed a second copy. By that time, the department said that she had missed the deadline. And now, her grant has been converted into a loan.

Another teacher, David West, from Lexington, S.C. reports that he mistakenly left out the date and signature on his certification form. After he realized his mistake, he sent in a corrected form, but by then, the department had deemed his filing as past due, which resulted in his grant being turned into a loan.

Possible Causes

One major problem is that the Department of Education does not really know why so many teachers are not meeting requirements. Another problem is that it has outsourced the funding of grants to servicing companies like FedLoan due to the sheer number of students taking out loans and receiving grants. These companies receive a dollar or two a month per borrower, which might not be enough of an incentive to put in effort to ensure that recipients are treated fairly.

Appeals and Future Court Action

Teachers like West and Webb have the Massachusetts state attorney general in their corner. Maura Healy has announced that she is suing FedLoan over the TEACH program. However, the journey could be long and difficult, since the Trump administration is enacting measures to protect companies like FedLoan from liability.

The Department of Education has released a statement expressing concern, and agreed that it needed to better understand why so many recipients are failing to meet requirements. The DOE also reiterated that it requires all recipients to complete an online counseling session each year and that once a recipient has started the program, multiple communications reminding them of the need to annually certify will be sent out to ensure compliance.

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