Aug. 14, 2018
FOIA Request Uncovers Significant Problems With Education Department’s TEACH Grant Program
Statement of Julie Murray, Attorney, Public Citizen
Note: In 2016, Public Citizen submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. Department of Education regarding reports that the agency and its private loan servicers improperly converted government-funded TEACH Grants to fully repayable federal loans. TEACH Grants are available to college students who seek to teach in high-need fields in low-income schools. They may convert to federal loans if students do not fulfill a teaching service requirement after graduation.
Records obtained by Public Citizen through its FOIA request demonstrate that one of the department’s student loan servicers appeared to erroneously converted more than 10,000 grants to loans. According to published reports by NPR, including one today, the agency has since reconverted loans back to grants for just 1,671 of these recipients, or 15 percent. Some information used in NPR’s story originated from Public Citizen’s FOIA request.
The department’s failed effort to clean up the TEACH Grant mess that it and its servicers have made is disgraceful. The financial futures of thousands of teachers are at stake, and the department has looked on with a yawn.
The department has an obligation not just to rein in its loan servicers going forward, but to make whole the teachers who have been saddled with high-interest loans they shouldn’t owe. Teachers shouldn’t have to “opt in” to the department’s program for reconverting these grants, as the agency has so far required.