Education Department Relaxes TEACH Grant Program Guidelines

Aspiring teachers can breathe a bit easier in their educational and career pursuits as the U.S. Department of Education relaxed its rules for the federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (TEACH) Grant Program and the Biden-Harris administration proposes boosts to the program via the American Families Plan (AFP).

The Department of Education changes – first introduced in the summer of 2020 by former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos – aims to remove hurdles involved in the TEACH program, which have often saddled grant recipients with burdensome loans – converted from grants due to paperwork issues.

The program gives grants of up to $4,000 annually to students majoring or planning to major in education for a teaching career. In exchange, recipients have to teach in a high-need discipline and in an underserved school for four years with an eight-year deadline. If recipients did not complete the required four years or submit proper documentation, the grant was subsequently converted into a Direct Unsubsidized Loan.

Dr. Elizabeth Birr MojeDr. Elizabeth Birr Moje

The intent behind the existing TEACH Grant program was to encourage people to go into teaching, “which is not always as highly paid as we wish it were, as other real professions are – and to keep people in the profession because they’re not trying to work off debt and lured into higher paying jobs to be able to work off those debts,” said Dr. Elizabeth Birr Moje, dean of the University of Michigan School of Education. “Unfortunately, the way the TEACH Grant program ran in the past, found many people actually incurring more debt than they would have had they not gotten the TEACH Grants because of the way the TEACH Grants were regulated so that if your materials weren’t filed properly in exactly the right time frame, they would turn into loans at very high interest rates.”

Under these new changes which took effect on July 1st, TEACH Grant recipients will not have grants converted into loans if they do not certify they have begun teaching or intend to begin teaching within 120 days of graduation or withdrawal from school.

The Department of Education also opened the reconsideration process to all TEACH Grant recipients whose grants have been converted into loans to give more relief to recipients whose grants were converted in error.

In addition to these changes from the Department of Education, the Biden-Harris administration is attempting to bolster the TEACH Grant program through the AFP. The plan would double the grant to $8,000 a year for juniors, seniors and grad students, eliminate GPA requirements and expand the TEACH program to early childhood educators.

“The American Families Plan would really add to the TEACH Grant program in ways that I fully support,” Moje said. “Doubling the amount for the grants is absolutely crucial. … I think the very least we can do is really try to recruit the most committed, the most passionate about teaching, and especially teaching in historically minoritized and marginalized communities.”

Moje praised the program expansion to include early childhood education.

“It’s even harder to encourage people to go through university-based certification programs to recoup only the salaries of early childhood educators,” Moje said. “It’s a real problem in our society that we don’t pay the people we entrust our children’s learning with more, but this at least expands the opportunity for people to recover some of that investment that they make in actual professional learning.”

The AFP also includes $2.8 billion in Grow Your Own programs and year-long, paid teacher residency programs. It also includes $400 million for teacher preparation programs at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) and minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and $900 million for special education teacher development.

Moje called the investment in special education absolutely critical.

“We know that, to really serve students well, teachers need to be fluent in all the different kinds of needs that learners have and understand the range of ways that people learn,” she said.

Almost 27,000 students at more than 740 institutions received TEACH program funding in the 2019-20 school year, according to the Department of Education.

“Our teachers are champions of students’ potential and stewards of their success. Respecting and honoring teachers who serve students with the greatest needs also requires that we ensure these educators receive the support to which they are entitled from this important federal program without having to jump through unnecessary hoops,” said Dr. Miguel Cardona, the U.S. Secretary of Education, in announcing the new changes.

According to Cardona, the additional American Families Plan funding will “strengthen teacher pipelines into the profession, support teacher retention, and address critical teacher shortages so that every child across America can be taught by well-prepared and outstanding educators.”

Arrman Kyaw can be reached at akyaw@diverseeducation.com.