Aspiring Teachers Get New Help Paying For College

Kaitlyn McCollum was teaching high school in Tennessee when her federal TEACH Grants were turned into more than $20,000 in loans simply because she had narrowly missed a paperwork deadline. In the spring of 2019, her debts were erased as part of the department’s overhaul.

“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.”

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.

“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. “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.”

In Aug. 2020, NPR reported that, since the program’s overhaul began, more than 6,500 educators had 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 discharged. For teachers still serving, the conversion meant they could resume the deal they made with the department and work to keep their grant money.

The new regulations also give teachers more options for pausing their service obligation, create a formal reconsideration process for any teacher who believes they’ve had their grants converted unfairly, and expand the scope of the program to include not only low-income communities but also high-need, rural areas where recruiting and retaining teachers can be difficult.

The Biden Administration says it wants to expand the TEACH Grant, making it more generous. If passed by Congress, the American Families Plan would increase the grant for college juniors, seniors and graduate students from $4,000 a year to $8,000 and would also make it available to many early childhood educators. In a release, the Education Department said it expects these changes would increase the number of TEACH recipients by more than 50 percent, to nearly 40,000 in 2022 — welcome news to school leaders in remote and high-need communities that sometimes struggle to entice new talent to the classroom.

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