More Than 6,500 Teachers Have Had Unfair Student Debts Erased

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Kaitlyn McCollum, pictured here in 2018, was teaching high school in Tennessee when her federal TEACH Grants were turned into more than $20,000 in loans.

Stacy Kranitz for NPR

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Stacy Kranitz for NPR

The Trouble With TEACH Grants

According to the department, since that reconsideration process began, more than 6,500 educators have successfully petitioned to have nearly $44 million in loans turned back into TEACH Grants. For teachers who could prove they had already completed their required service, their debts were simply erased. For teachers still serving, the conversion means they can resume the deal they made with the department and work to keep their grant money.

Kaitlyn McCollum is one of those educators who successfully had her loans turned back into grants. For two years, these unfair debts haunted her and her young family. She was teaching high school in Tennessee when her federal TEACH Grants were turned into more than $20,000 in loans. The reason: McCollum had narrowly missed a paperwork deadline. She and her family eventually moved to a smaller, less expensive house to prepare for what then seemed inevitable: Repayment of a debt she and her husband had never planned for.

But, as NPR reported in the spring of 2019, McCollum’s debts were erased as part of the department’s overhaul.

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«We won,» she told NPR. «We raised our voices and they finally heard us. Disbelief followed by a relief like I have not felt before.»

According to the latest Education Department data, as of July 6, 2020, approximately two-thirds of TEACH Grant recipients who successfully had their loans turned back to grants had already or have since satisfied the program’s teaching requirement.

While the program’s flaws date back to its beginning, in 2008, it was the Trump administration that agreed to a remedy and apologized to teachers like McCollum.

«We’ve put teachers who didn’t deserve this stress, this pressure, this financial burden in a position that is frightening and confusing,» the Education Department’s then-acting undersecretary and acting assistant secretary, Diane Auer Jones, told NPR in 2019. «I can’t give them back those years, and I can’t take away the gray hairs and I can’t take away the stress. It seems like a small thing to do to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ but I’m very sorry. And we want to work to fix it and correct it.»

Since the TEACH Grant program began, roughly 32,000 educators have successfully completed the program, receiving approximately $200 million in grants to pay for their degrees, according to the department.

The department posted its new, final regulations for TEACH to the Federal Register on Aug. 14. Those regulations will go into effect July 1, 2021.

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