The U.S. Department of Education announced on Thursday that it would be reaching out to some educators who saw their grant aid turned into loans under a federal financial aid program for teachers, beginning a reconsideration process that could result in these debts being forgiven.
The decision may provide relief to thousands of teachers who unwittingly took on loans through the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grant program—known as TEACH Grants—as a result of paperwork errors.
In December, after pressure from the media and federal lawmakers, the department announced that it would allow these recipients to apply for reconsideration.
Now, the administration has detailed the process. In a notice posted to its website, the department stated that it would be emailing those eligible for reconsideration next week. In order to qualify to have their loans converted back to grants, recipients must be able to demonstrate that they had already fulfilled the four-year teaching requirement within the eight year window, or that they plan to complete the service before the time period is up.
Teachers who had their grants turned to loans under the program can also reach out directly to the department, if they don’t receive an email but believe that they would qualify for reconsideration. Instructions for this process can be found on the department’s website.
TEACH Grants were created in 2007 to incentivize prospective teachers to work in high-needs schools and subjects. Aspiring educators were given $4,000 in grant aid if they taught in specific subjects, like math or science, in low-income schools for at least four years within the eight-year period after they graduated from college. If teachers didn’t fulfill these requirements, their grant aid would be turned into loans.
More than 60 percent of all teachers who received this aid before July 2014 had this scholarship converted into debt, according to a department report obtained by NPR in March—but for many, it wasn’t because they weren’t completing their teaching service. Instead, it was the result of paperwork errors.
TEACH Grant recipients are required to recertify their status each year, affirming that they are continuing to meet the conditions of the program. But the department report found that 19 percent of recipients whose grants were turned into loans hadn’t known that they needed to do this, and 13 percent said that they ran into difficulties during the process that prevented them from submitting for recertification.
And some grants were turned to loans as a result of errors by the administration. A 2015 report by the Government Accountability office found that more than 2,000 grants had been converted to debt by mistake, as of 2014.
The department’s reconsideration process likely won’t bring relief to all teachers who carry loans under the program. Because TEACH grants require recipients to complete their four years of qualifying service within an eight-year window, it may be too late for some to apply for reconsideration.
Reevaluating only some of the loan conversations “does not go nearly far enough to fix the program’s woes,” Julie Murray, an attorney for the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, said in a statement in December.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.