Federal

Education Department Overhauls Beleaguered Teacher Grant Program

Biden proposes doubling annual TEACH grants to $8,000
By Madeline Will — July 01, 2021 4 min read
Image of money.

For years, thousands of teachers have been stunned to find out that their federal grant money for teaching in high-needs areas had been turned into student loans that they had to pay back, often due to a paperwork error or a missed deadline.

Now, the U.S. Department of Education is making changes to its Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education, or TEACH, grant program to reduce the chances that a teacher’s grant will be converted into a direct unsubsidized loan. A government report found that more than 60 percent of teachers who received a TEACH grant prior to July 2014 were forced to repay the money as a loan, even though many had completed the program’s teaching requirements.

The Education Department has been forgiving thousands of teachers’ debt since the start of 2019, after a government study and reporting from NPR exposed the high grant-to-loan conversion rate. The department now says all teachers whose TEACH grants have been converted to loans can ask for the decision to be reconsidered.

The TEACH grant program was authorized by Congress in 2007 to attract more teachers into short-staffed fields. More than 200,000 college and graduate students have received TEACH grants over the years, with nearly 27,000 receiving an award during the 2019-20 school year.

College students can get an annual grant of up to $4,000 if they commit to teach in a high-needs field and in a high-poverty school for at least four years within the eight years after they graduate. The Education Department is now expanding the definition of high-needs fields to go beyond subject areas—like special education or science—and include grade levels and geographic areas, like rural schools, that are also experiencing teacher shortages.

Previously, teachers would have to submit documentation certifying that they had begun teaching or intended to begin teaching within 120 days of graduating from college. They also had to submit a form at the end of every school year, certifying that they had completed a year of teaching. If they missed any of those deadlines by even a day, or made a small mistake on the paperwork, their grants would be turned into loans, with interest.

Now, teachers no longer have to certify their intent to teach after graduation. If they don’t submit paperwork after each school year, their grants won’t be automatically converted into loans. Teachers will now only have to pay back their grants if they run out of time to complete the required four years of service within the eight-year deadline, or if they decide they don’t want to teach at all.

“Respecting and honoring teachers who serve students with the greatest needs also requires that we ensure these educators receive the support to which they are entitled from this important federal program without having to jump through unnecessary hoops,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona in a statement.

President Joe Biden’s $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which must be approved by Congress and faces strong political headwinds, would also increase the TEACH grant amount to $8,000 per year for college juniors, seniors, and graduate students. (Freshmen and sophomores would still get a $4,000 grant.) The plan also would expand eligibility to aspiring early-childhood educators who commit to working in programs that disproportionately serve students from low-income families, and it would remove the program’s grade point average requirement of 3.25.

The Education Department said those proposed changes would likely double the number of grant recipients, so that in 2022, nearly 40,000 people would commit to teaching in a high-needs school for four years.

Department aims to cut the red tape

Teachers have long said the process to prove they’re meeting the program’s requirements was confusing and riddled with red tape. Teachers told NPR in 2018 that FedLoan, the loan-servicing company that manages the grants, didn’t keep track of recipients’ up-to-date contact information—sometimes emailing important documents to university-affiliated email addresses, which are often closed after graduation—and discouraged teachers from appealing a loan conversion when they made a mistake. Many teachers ended up owing thousands more than the grants were worth as FedLoan tacked on interest.

The Education Department said it will require recipients of the TEACH grant to go through counseling to understand the requirements and their responsibilities. FedLoan will also start sending detailed annual notifications to recipients with deadline and documentation reminders, accrued interest estimates, and explanations about the process.

The department will also expand the reasons why a grant recipient’s four-year obligation can be suspended. For example, if a teacher joins the military or is married to someone in the military, they can pause the clock for a certain period of time.

Since February 2019, when the department first began allowing TEACH grant recipients to request forgiveness of a loan conversion, about 10,000 teachers applied for reconsideration. The department approved more than 7,000 of those requests.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Reading & Literacy Webinar
Addressing Learning Loss: What Schools Need to Accelerate Reading Instruction in K-3
When K-3 students return to classrooms this fall, there will be huge gaps in foundational reading skills. Does your school or district need a plan to address learning loss and accelerate student growth? In this
Content provided by PDX Reading
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy to Advance Educational Equity
Schools are welcoming students back into buildings for full-time in-person instruction in a few short weeks and now is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and systems to build
Content provided by PowerMyLearning
Classroom Technology Webinar Making Big Technology Decisions: Advice for District Leaders, Principals, and Teachers
Educators at all levels make decisions that can have a huge impact on students. That’s especially true when it comes to the use of technology, which was activated like never before to help students learn

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Biden Team: Schools Can Go Beyond Trump Rules in Response to Alleged Sexual Misconduct
The Education Department's guidance, released July 20, states that Title IX rules from 2020 lay out "minimum steps" for educators.
3 min read
Symbols of gender.
iStock/Getty
Federal Fact Check: After Furor Over 1619 Project, Feds Adjust History and Civics Grant Plans
A previously obscure history and civics program has weathered a political storm, but what exactly has changed?
4 min read
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Education secretary nominee Miguel Cardona speaks during a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on his nomination on Feb. 3, 2021, in Washington.
Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times via AP
Federal 'Stop CRT' Bill, Votes in Congress Add to Political Drama Over Critical Race Theory
Sen. Tom Cotton's legislation and votes about critical race theory in the House underscore the issue's potency in Washington.
5 min read
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a hearing to examine United States Special Operations Command and United States Cyber Command in review of the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2022 and the Future Years Defense Program, on Capitol Hill, Thursday, March 25, 2021, in Washington.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill March 25 in Washington.
Andrew Harnik/AP
Federal Senators Grill Civil Rights Nominee on Transgender Students, Sexual Assault Investigations
If confirmed as assistant secretary for civil rights, Catherine Lhamon will handle some of the Education Department's most sensitive issues.
6 min read
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the education secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP