Education Secretary DeVos Acknowledges Problems With Teacher Grant Program

May 22, 2018
Originally published on May 22, 2018 8:27 pm
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Lawmakers have asked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos about an NPR report about a troubled grant program for public school teachers. Here's NPR's Cory Turner.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: It's called the TEACH Grant Program, and it's supposed to give teachers money for college or a master's degree if they promise to teach a high-need subject like math in a low-income school for four years. But NPR revealed that for years now, potentially thousands of teachers have had their grants converted to loans with interest because of minor paperwork problems. Kaitlyn McCollum, a high school teacher in Columbia, Tenn., will never forget the day she got the letter in the mail.

KAITLYN MCCOLLUM: Sheer panic just set in. To be hit with this - I remember my husband coming in the house, and I was sobbing.

TURNER: McCollum's $16,000 in grants became overnight $22,000 in loans. So she appealed. Her principal even wrote a letter testifying to the fact that she had faxed her paperwork on time. Still, her appeal was denied. This morning, NPR reported that the Education Department has responded and begun a top-to-bottom internal review of the TEACH Grant Program. Officials say the review is aimed at fixing the issues and that the department is absolutely committed to improving the program.

And that brings us to DeVos, who had not as yet publicly acknowledged the TEACH Grant problems. She testified today before House lawmakers, including Congressman Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat, who called those problems a debacle.

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BOBBY SCOTT: How long has the Department known about that?

BETSY DEVOS: Are you speaking of the teacher grant program?

SCOTT: I am.

DEVOS: We are aware of the issues within that program and have taken steps to address the issues therein.

SCOTT: Do need legislation to fix it?

DEVOS: I don't believe so.

TURNER: A few minutes later, Congresswoman Susan Davis, a California Democrat, said she wants DeVos to take this seriously.

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SUSAN DAVIS: And I hope that you have a number of people that are dedicated to looking at that issue right now because certainly I think people are very concerned when they hear about that. And it really falls on the Department.

TURNER: The Department tells NPR that its review is in the early stages. In the meantime, they say teachers who believe they've had their grants unfairly converted should appeal first through their servicer, FedLoan, and, if necessary, through the Department's Federal Student Aid Ombudsman's office. Cory Turner, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.