U.S. Senator Tina Smith: Education Department Taking a Step in the Right Direction for Teachers to Receive Promised Aid

WASHINGTON, D.C. [12/10/18]–Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) released the following statement after the Education Department announced it will be instituting a process to help teachers who have been unfairly forced to repay thousands of dollars after grants they received were later, and often erroneously, converted to loans.

“This is a great first step for all the teachers who have been fulfilling the service requirements for the TEACH Grant program, but who had their grants converted into loans—with back interest due—because of minor paperwork issues related to the overly complicated annual certification process,” said. Sen. Smith. “This annual paperwork process must be reformed and teachers in high-need schools should not suffer crushing financial consequences due to poor program administration. When I learned that thousands of teachers were having this problem, I urged the Education Department to do right by teachers. I’m glad the Department is listening, and I look forward to working to ensure that the process for reconsideration is meaningful and followed by other changes to improve the program.”

The TEACH Grant program promises up-front financial assistance for college students who commit to pursue teaching careers in high-need schools. If students do not fulfill the service requirements of the program, they are liable to pay back the grant money in full with interest—but reports indicated many teachers’ grants were being converted to loans erroneously, due to small errors in paperwork or even for seemingly no reason at all. This included over 4,800 TEACH grant-to-loan conversions between 2009 and 2016 for students who’ve attended college in Minnesota. Sen. Smith repeatedly called for answers and action from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos after reports from NPR and The Washington Post shed light on the scope and severity of the problems.

You can read a letter Sen. Smith led with 18 of her colleagues about the TEACH program in June here and a repeated call from Sen. Smith in September here.