Feds unfairly convert teacher grants to loans

As a passionate educator in the state of Idaho, I am writing to inform Voices readers about how the U.S. Department of Education’s FedLoan Servicing is wrongly converting TEACH Grants into loans. In August 2014, FedLoan Servicing is converting my “grant” into an $8,000 loan (plus accumulated interest since the date it was awarded), even though I have complied with their terms and conditions. I have filed a dispute with FedLoan Servicing, as well as the U.S. Department of Education FSA Ombudsman Group. Education News provides a forum in which I have the opportunity to uncover this injustice being done to me, as well as our nation’s highly-qualified teachers.

As a pre-service educator, attending Idaho State University, I was “awarded” a TEACH Grant for two consecutive years. I was ecstatic to receive this grant to offset the high cost of my post-secondary education. The TEACH Grant program provides grants up to $4,000 per year to students, with a 3.25 GPA or higher, who are completing course work needed to begin a career in teaching. The educator must agree to work in a school that serves low-income families for four years. As a highly qualified teacher, the recipient must provide service in a high-need field. After four years of service, the tuition amount is forgiven since the terms and conditions of the service agreement have been met.

I am honored to be in my second year of teaching as a highly qualified educator in low-income school district, Buhl Joint School District #412. I am also teaching in a high-needs field. I have provided FedLoan Servicing with documentation of my progress toward completing my four year service obligation. After submitting my certification document on Dec. 11, 2013, I received an email from FedLoan Servicing stating that I would be notified whether or not they would accept my certification. If it was accepted, I would be contacted closer to my next annual due date.

As a single-mother, raising two daughters on a teacher’s salary of $30,500, I have an extremely limited budget. I was outraged when I contacted FedLoan Servicing on April 25, 2014, to simply update my address, and I was informed that my “grant” was converted to a loan due to a mistake on the December paperwork. This “grant” was converted with no correspondence to my home or email, no phone call or prior warning. Even though I have documents to prove these transactions, I continue to be denied in my dispute because the “grant” has already been converted. In my rural elementary school of 32 certified teachers, seven teachers have received the TEACH Grant; all seven so-called “grants’ have been converted. Just imagine the money being made from the interest on these grants nationwide!

The U.S. Department of Education’s FedLoan Servicing needs to be held accountable for the mistreatment of the TEACH Grant program and the injustice to our nation’s educators.  Due to FedLoan Servicing’s negligence in notification, my simple paperwork error may cost me my home. Teaching is one of the most complicated professions today. It requires knowledge, enthusiasm, classroom management skills, and a desire to make a difference. The grants offered by the federal government should not be a road block to achieving these goals, but incentives to enter the profession.

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