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Some teachers saddled with this debt burden will get a second chance
Some TEACH recipients wrongly had grants converted to loans
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Gainesville Middle School music teacher Craig Bailey tells of his problems with the US Dept. of Education Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019, when he was working toward his masters degree. The US Dept. of Education is making changes to the troubled program that trains teachers to educate in low-income schools/neighborhoods, but program has left many of these teachers with unnecessary debt. - photo by Scott Rogers

Craig Bailey, a music instructor at Gainesville Middle School, is one of thousands of educators across the nation who got ensnared in bureaucratic paperwork that left them loaded with debt after pursuing undergraduate or graduate degrees.  

But a reprieve may now be available.

In 2010, Bailey returned to school to earn his Master’s Degree, and utilized the Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grant to pay for it, a federal program that provides up to $4,000 in grant aid in exchange for having graduates teach a “high-need” subject for four years in public schools that serve students from low-income families.

TEACH grant recipients must certify each year that they are meeting the requirements of teaching in a Title I school.

A missed deadline would be no minor oversight, even by a single day, and even if the requirements are actually being met. The grant would be converted to a loan, with interest.

Before he finished his degree, Bailey’s field was cut from the list of specialty subject areas covered by the TEACH grant, which primarily focuses on recruiting educators in math, science or foreign languages these days.

Nevertheless, he continued to certify for the grant funding he had received. 

But then he missed an email. 

The paperwork simply got lost in the shuffle of emails he was trying to catch up on when he returned from summer break one year, Baile said.

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Gainesville Middle School music teacher Joey Forbes conducts the band Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. When earning his maters degree, Forbes participated in a US Dept. of Education program that trains teachers to educate in low-income schools/neighborhoods. The troubled program has left many of these teachers with unnecessary debt. - photo by Scott Rogers

“The Teach grant was converted to a loan resulting in the back-interest being applied,” Bailey said. “This raised the total to $2,113.” 

His colleague, Joey Forbes, had joined him in the pursuit of a graduate degree. And he was almost caught up in the problem, as well.

Forbes only received his certification paperwork a week prior to its due date, he said.

An internal Department of Education survey made public by National Public Radio found that one in three TEACH recipients, or about 12,000 in total, had their grants converted to loans despite continuing to meet the program’s requirements. And 4,000 formal disputes had been filed by educators whose grants were converted to loans because of late paperwork filings.

Bailey said his case was a “textbook” example of the problem, adding that he was given no recourse to resolve the problem.

The U.S. Department of Education has now acknowledged that the paperwork verifying this information is sometimes burdensome, especially because it has often been sent to educators during the summer months when they are not teaching, which is what happened to Bailey. 

In December, however, officials with the education department announced it would give teachers like Bailey a second chance to prove they were meeting the program’s teaching requirements, something Bailey said he intends to take advantage of.

According to the education department, Bailey and others can request a review “if you met or are meeting the TEACH Grant service requirements within the eight-year service obligation period but had your grants converted to loans because you did not comply with the annual certification requirement.”

In a report released in December, the department said it had also created a uniform date this year for teachers to certify.

“Starting in 2019, the new annual certification date that will apply to you and all TEACH Grant recipients is Oct. 31,” the department states. “Each year at the beginning of October, the TEACH Grant servicer, FedLoan Servicing, will notify you and tell you how to submit your documentation of progress towards completing your TEACH Grant service obligation, or your certification of intent to satisfy the service obligation.”

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Gainesville Middle School music teacher Joey Forbes conducts the band Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019. When earning his maters degree, Forbes participated in a US Dept. of Education program that trains teachers to educate in low-income schools/neighborhoods. The troubled program has left many of these teachers with unnecessary debt. - photo by Scott Rogers