PHEAA to reconsider troubled TEACH grant loan conversions |

PHEAA to reconsider troubled TEACH grant loan conversions

Deb Erdley

Officials at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency (PHEAA) on Monday said the agency’s FedLoan Servicing unit will begin taking applications Feb. 1 for reconsideration from teachers who believe their federal TEACH grants were erroneously converted to loans.

Those accepted for reconsideration will see their debt erased and any loan payments that were made refunded, PHEAA said.

Studies have suggested thousands of teachers across the country may have been the victims of paperwork issues that resulted in their grants being converted to loans even though they met the criteria of the grant program.

The federal TEACH grant program, launched in 2008, was designed to attract aspiring teachers in high need subject areas such as math and special education to low income schools by providing them with grants of up to $4,000 to underwrite their college costs. The grants were designed to convert to loans with interest due if teachers failed to meet their obligation to serve in such schools for four of their first eight years after graduation.

The program, which FedLoan Servicing administers under contract to the federal government, came under fire even before it got off the ground. Critics said complex criteria including requiring grant recipients to recertify their eligibility during a narrow time period every year, set the stage for failure

Late last year, following thousands of complaints from teachers who said their grants were converted to loans, even though were holding up their end of the bargain, a slew of lawsuits, two government studies and an onslaught of news stories , the Department of Education agreed to permit teachers to apply to have their TEACH grant debts erased

PHEAA officials said those seeking reconsideration must contact FedLoan Servicing at 1-800-699-2908 to apply for reconsideration.

In an effort to simplify the program and head off future problems, the U.S. Department of Education also agreed to create a single standardized annual certification date. Beginning this year all TEACH grant recipients must recertify their employment by Oct. 31, to avoid having their grants converted to loans.

State Sen. Wayne D. Fontana, D-Brookline, a longtime PHEAA board member and vice chairman of its board, applauded the federal Department of Education’s decision.

“While teachers must still prove that they’ve met employment requirements, it no longer matters if their annual certification was previously submitted late or was incomplete. If a teacher can now document employment in a high-need subject at a low-income school they will get full credit for those years, have their debt erased, and receive a full refund on any loan payments. That’s a great resolution for teachers who deserve the full benefits of the TEACH Grant Program,” Fontana said in a statement announcing the opening of the reconsideration process.

Deb Erdley is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Deb at 724-850-1209, [email protected] or via Twitter @deberdley_trib.