TEACH Grant Updates; And Denver Teacher Negotiations At An Impasse

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New guidance on TEACH Grant program

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of Education made good on its promise to map out how it would help thousands of public school teachers who have been hurt by the federal TEACH Grant program.

The department published guidance for teachers who were meeting the program's service requirements — teaching a high-need subject for four years in a low-income school — but nevertheless had their grants converted to loans because of strict paperwork rules. Affected teachers can now apply for "reconsideration," and as long as they can demonstrate that they met or can still meet those teaching requirements, their grants will be reinstated.

Teachers around the country have been expressing relief and gratitude over the department's reconsideration plan, and many were anxiously hitting refresh on the department's website Thursday looking for instructions on how to formally apply.

Once the new guidance was published, Matt Shaver of Minneapolis wasted no time applying for reconsideration. On Friday, he tweeted, "Just placed a call this AM to get the ball rolling! Sounds like a review takes ten days, they mail you their decision, then 30 more days for the actual loan to be converted back."

The new guidance comes after a yearlong NPR investigation revealed that thousands of aspiring teachers who received TEACH Grants to help pay for college or a master's degree had those grants later converted to loans because of simple paperwork mistakes, including narrowly missing a deadline or forgetting to date the required form.

In the coming week, the Education Department says it will begin an email outreach campaign notifying some 16,000 teachers who it believes may qualify for reconsideration.

Some teachers, like Kaitlyn McCollum of Columbia, Tenn., had their grants changed to loans in their fourth and final year of service; the department says those loans will be reconverted automatically without teachers having to go through the reconsideration process.

The new guidance can be found here. If you believe you qualify for reconsideration, you do not need to wait for a department email. Call today.

Denver teachers, district officials try and fail to continue negotiations

Negotiations between Denver teachers and district leaders broke down again Thursday night, more than a week after the union voted to authorize a strike.

The district's latest proposal added $3 million to teacher compensation packages and the promise of two cost-of-living increases through the 2021-2022 school year. According to Colorado Public Radio's Jenny Brundin, after the district presented its proposal, lead union negotiator Rob Gould turned to the teachers and said, "They didn't bring us a proposal tonight; they brought a small IOU."

Superintendent Susana Cordova told reporters she was "disappointed that the [union] did not engage in the discussion or bring a counterproposal."

The strike is currently on hold as Colorado's Department of Labor and Employment decides whether to intervene. A decision is expected by Feb. 11.

The next step for new campus sexual assault rules

Public comments closed Wednesday on a set of proposed changes to how schools implement Title IX regulations on their campuses.

Back in November, the Education Department announced additional protections for students accused of sexual assault. The agency received more than 100,000 comments on the new rules over two months.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has said, "It is our goal with this proposed rule to ensure that Title IX grievance proceedings become more transparent, consistent, and reliable in their processes and outcomes." But critics worry that the rules would dissuade sexual assault survivors from reporting incidents.

Survivor advocacy groups mobilized their supporters to submit input during the public comment period in hopes that a high number of comments would force officials to pay attention. Meanwhile, groups who back the new rules encouraged input from students who say they were wrongly accused of sexual assault.

Officials will now review the comments, which could take months.

Kamala Harris and Cory Booker announce presidential bids

California Sen. Kamala Harris kicked off her presidential campaign Sunday by declaring education as a fundamental right and vowing to fight for universal prekindergarten and debt-free college. (Last March, she co-sponsored a bill that would have helped students pay for the full cost of college, including living expenses, but the bill did not make it out of committee.)

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker also announced a presidential bid this week. Booker's track record on education deviates from that of other Democrats. As mayor of Newark from 2006 to 2013, Booker backed charter school expansion and school vouchers. He also joined DeVos on the board of an organization that advocated for school choice. However, Booker notably voted against DeVos at her 2017 Senate confirmation hearing. Harris and Booker join what could be the largest Democratic presidential field in history, with several confirmed candidates and nearly 20 others considering a run.

Schools close — and superintendents sing

This week, subzero temperatures forced schools across the country to shut down, many for multiple days. Canceling school is a tough decision for school administrators. It involves safety, disruption for families and lost learning time. To soften the blow, some superintendents and principals have turned to music videos — and a few have gone viral.

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