McCollum was not alone. NPR’s reporting over the past year found that the same thing was happening to thousands of other public school teachers.
The problem at the heart of the TEACH Grant story is that small paperwork issues often triggered this catastrophic consequence. In order to qualify for a grant, aspiring teachers agreed to teach for four years in a low-income public school. But the rules also required that teachers send in a form every year to prove they were actually teaching.
The forms were often due over the summer when teachers and principals, who had to sign them, were away on vacation. And if teachers sent in this annual form even one day late, missing a signature or date, or with any other little problem, their TEACH Grants would be turned into loans, with interest. And this process was irreversible. Teachers were told their loans could not be converted back to grants.
For two years, the debt haunted McCollum and her young family. They went into forbearance – a brief reprieve but with interest accruing. They even moved to a smaller, less expensive house to prepare for what now seemed inevitable. No one was listening. Fair or not, the debt was growing and would need to be repaid.
And then, just a few Saturdays ago, another letter arrived in the mail. McCollum opened it in the car, her husband driving, their young son Louther chirping in the back seat. A much-needed spring break vacation lay ahead.
«Do you see that word, ‘Congratulations!’?» McCollum said, smiled and laughed. It was official: That debt, now $24,000, had finally been turned back into grants.
«Two years of us fighting this,» McCollum said. «We won,» she tells NPR. «We raised our voices and they finally heard us. Disbelief followed by a relief like I have not felt before.»
The federal TEACH Grant program was created in 2007 with the best of intentions: to help aspiring teachers, who committed to teach high-need subjects in low-income schools, pay for college. And the program succeeded in attracting bright young teachers to work in some of the nation’s most underserved schools. According to the most recent data, roughly 21,000 teachers have successfully completed the program’s four-year teaching requirement.
But that compares to 94,000 recipients who have had their grants turned into loans. Many of those conversions were justified – young students who later decided teaching was not for them and didn’t complete their required service. But many others were undoubtedly like Kaitlyn McCollum: They have t’s administrative quicksand.
Teachers Share Anger, Frustration Over Grants Turned Into Loans
In December, after payday loans Nebraska multiple NPR reports on the depth of the TEACH Grant problem, the Education Department announced it would offer relief for any teacher who could prove they had fulfilled – or could still fulfill – their teaching service. Grants that had unfairly become loans because of these minor paperwork problems would, at last, become grants again. The irreversible became reversible.
«From internal reports, from the work that [NPR] did, it was abundantly clear to us that there was a problem with TEACH Grants,» says the Education Department’s Jones, who served in the same role in 2007, when the TEACH rules were first written. «We realized that there were certain things that seemed like a good idea when we wrote the [regulation], but they were just too cumbersome for students. And unfairly so.»
The number of teachers getting help is likely to rise. According to the department, since it rolled out its fix in January nearly 6,000 teachers have applied for relief. So far, nearly 2,300 have been approved for the fix and are getting their loans turned back into grants and fewer than 20 teachers have been denied. In short, the vast majority of teachers who apply for the fix are getting their grants back.