For years, hardworking American teachers have fallen pray to a convoluted federal program that resulted in thousands of dollars worth of grants being converted into debt.
Now, thanks to a lengthy investigation from journalists at National Public Radio, and the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, their debt will finally be wiped away.
The TEACH program was originally created by the Department of Education to help aspiring teachers receive money for college or post-collegiate education by agreeing to teach in low-income, high-need schools for four years within an eight-year period.
The complex process required teachers to submit proof of their current school posting every year in a form described as “too complicated and confusing,” according to an internal Department of Education email revealed by NPR. One missed signature or even one missed date would invalidate the form and a teacher’s grants would automatically be converted to loans – with interest.
Kaitlyn McCollum is a public-school teacher who suffered from the egregious bureaucratic process after her $24,000 grant was converted into a loan which led to her family having to downsize into a smaller and older house because – on her fourth and final year of submitting paperwork for the program – the paperwork arrived one week late. McCollum told NPR that the debt would periodically fill her with dread, saying: “It will just hit me like a ton of bricks. Oh my God, I owe all of that money.”
She filed a formal appeal, which was denied. But even the loan company that administered the program warned the Department to fix the “inflexibility” of paperwork requirements, which was hurting teachers.
After reporters shined a spotlight on the shoddy procedure, however, the Department of Education accepted criticism of wrongdoing and are now trying to make amends by giving all TEACH grant recipients a second chance. Any teacher who can prove they have met their obligation will have their loans erased and interest payments refunded. Additionally, teachers who are still meeting their obligation will have their loans converted back into grants.
When McCollum was told that the Department of Education was going to fix their mistake, she went from quiet astonishment to crying with joy.
She tearfully told reporters, “Oh, that is such good news.”
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