The U.S. Department of Education announced on Sunday that it would cancel the student debts of thousands of teachers who saw their grant aid turned into loans under a federal financial aid program, NPR reports.
The move, which comes amid pressure from the media and federal lawmakers, brings relief to thousands of teachers who received grant aid under a federal program for teacher-candidates planning to work in low-income areas, only to have those grants converted to loans due to paperwork processing issues.
The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education, or TEACH grant, was created in 2007 to encourage more educators to work in high-needs areas. Aspiring teachers are eligible for up to $4,000 in grant aid if they teach in certain subjects, like math or science, in low-income schools for at least four years within the eight years after they graduate.
Every year, teacher-recipients must fill out a certification form affirming that they are continuing to meet the requirements of the program. If they don’t fill out the form—or if it is even as much as a day late—teachers’ grant aid can be turned into unsubsidized loans, even if they are still meeting the teaching criteria.
This is what happened to thousands of teachers participating in the TEACH grant program, according to a report released by the department in March. The report, first obtained by NPR, found that 19 percent of recipients whose grants were turned into loans hadn’t known that they needed to complete the recertification process, while 13 percent said that they ran into challenges during the process that prevented them from completing it.
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Now, teachers whose grants were turned into loans as a result of paperwork problems will be able to request relief under what the department is calling a “reconsideration” process. Any teacher who has met or is currently completing the program’s teaching requirements within the eight-year service window is eligible to have their debts erased, according to the department’s website.
As part of this process, the department will also reconsider the cases of 10,000 teachers whose grants were converted to loans, apparently due to errors made by an outside company that was managing the program, NPR reports.
The department plans to release instructions by Jan. 31 explaining how to apply for the reconsideration.
For some teachers, the department’s move could cancel thousands of dollars of debt. Kaitlyn McCollum, a public school teacher in Columbia, Tenn., told NPR that she now owes more than $24,000 in loans and interest after she was told that her recertification form had arrived late one year.
These grant-to-loan conversions have been a long-standing issue with the TEACH grant. In a 2015 report, the Government Accountability Office found that one-third of grants awarded through the program ended up being converted to loans. That report called on the education department to examine what was causing these high conversion rates.
Read NPR’s full story here.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.