Teachers are being forced into paying back thousands in grant money due to a small paperwork error
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Thousands of teachers across the country are being forced to repay thousands of dollars after having a gr ant canceled by the gr ant service company.
The Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education, or TEACH, program gives up to $4,000 per year to students and teachers pursuing degrees in education who agree to teach certain subjects in certain schools that typically have shortages of teachers.
Lexington County teacher David West is one of thousands now forced to repay that gr ant because of an error he made.
"It feels wrong. It feels like I'm being robbed. It feels like I'm being stolen from," West said.
What was once a $4,000 gr ant is now a loan of about $7,000 after his gr ant service company, FedLoan, converted the TEACH gr ant to a loan with interest.
West is an artist by nature and decided to go into teaching to share his gift with young, aspiring artists. He received his Master's degree at the University of South Carolina with the help of the gr ant.
West said he upheld his end of the deal by teaching a qualifying subject at a qualifying school, staying on track to meet the number of years the free money deal specified, but a paperwork error he made negated all of that.
"There's a spot on the back of the form where I left off a date and a signature," West said. He says he fought to have the error forgiven, feeling a $7,000 loan was harsh punishment for a mistake, but West said it's made no difference.
A study by the Government Accountability Office finds West is not alone. According to the GAO report from February 2015, 2,252 gr ants like West's were erroneously converted to loans from August 2013 to September 2014 alone. There are a variety of issues teachers surveyed told the GAO they experienced, such as not being given proper notification to recertify their gr ant, not the understanding terms, and the loan service company giving wrong information.
These issues have caused a lawsuit against FedLoan and the U.S. Department of Education. West is one of 13 people who signed onto the class-action suit.
"When this initially happened, I was really angry about it. Now at this point, I just want to keep fighting for it and advocating for this issue, and I want to see this stopped going forward," West explained.
FedLoan's parent company, the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency said Friday they help millions of borrowers successfully manage student loan debt, and are committed to resolving any borrower issues. However, they deferred questions to the U.S. Department of Education. A spokesperson for the department said they can give answers by April 30.
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