Negotiators Struggle to Define Institutional TEACH Grant Eligibility Requirement

Attempts to clarify the TEACH Grant requirement that an eligible institution provide a "high quality teacher preparation program" at the Teacher Preparation Negotiated Rulemaking committee meeting Friday were met with hesitation over the potential implications of overly prescriptive or burdensome language, particularly as the White House hopes to transform the program in the near future.

The Obama administration has plans to establish a $185 million state teacher preparation reform grant program that would revamp and upgrade the $110 million TEACH Grant program. The revised TEACH Grant program, renamed the "Presidential Teaching Fellows" program, would provide formula aid to states that commit to establish rigorous systems for teacher certification and licensure and teacher preparation program accountability.

Negotiators at Friday’s meeting expressed concern that any regulatory language to define a "high quality teacher preparation program" as a matter of institutional eligibility for the TEACH grant program would likely form the basis for the regulatory language under the "Presidential Teaching Fellows" program, which may entail different intentions and objectives.

Though statute requires that an institution provide a "high quality teacher preparation program" to establish eligibility for the TEACH Grant program, a definition of the term does not exist in statute or regulation. A framework in existing regulatory language, however, provides that a "high-quality teacher preparation program" at the baccalaureate or master’s degree level is accredited by a recognized accreditation agency or is approved by a state. 

The committee's discussion allows the Department of Education (ED) to draft proposed rule language that will form the basis of negotiation during the second negotiating session next month and a final session in April. The ultimate result will be a package of proposed rules to be published for public comment before promulgation of final rules.

Negotiators questioned whether the regulatory definition of "high quality" should require both accreditation and state approval as well as federal standards for "high quality," as ED officials expressed concern that some poor-performing programs, under the current regulatory reading, still qualify for TEACH Grant eligibility.

The Department has funded TEACH Grants at more than 800 of about 1,400 institutions of higher education that prepare teachers, without a specific determination of teacher preparation program integrity. In the most recent year for which data is available, states identified only 37 low-performing programs at the over 1,400 institutions. The Department said that nearly two-thirds of those teacher preparation programs identified by states as low-performing or at-risk participate in the TEACH Grant program. ED also noted that more than three in five education school alumni report that their education school did not prepare them for "classroom realities."

Many negotiators were inclined to accept at least a baseline definition of the term; however, any attempt to establish agreement was abated by concerns about Congressional intent, the scope of the program, the benefits and adverse effects of applying input and outcome metrics, and increasing administrative burden.

Some negotiators said the inputs and outcomes may be crucial to defining a federal standard for a "high quality teacher preparation program." For example, a metric would not only include evaluation of the credibility of the program and its enrollment standards, but measure the progress of the program’s graduates. 

For the sake of keeping TEACH Grant accessible, others said the scope of the definition should only be to exclude poor-performing programs that fall short of a baseline, and outcomes should not be considered because they have the potential to isolate institutions that serve low-income, at-risk, high-need communities and might be deemed ineligible under such standards.

Negotiators also argued that the regulatory language should not be overly prescriptive as to increase administrative burden on institutions. 

In the current regulatory framework, negotiators also noted that the "high quality" standard only applies to baccalaureate or master’s degree level programs, not to two-year programs, baccalaureate degrees in combination with other training, or post-baccalaureate programs of study. The statute makes no such distinction between types of eligible institutions, only that they must provide a "high quality teacher preparation program."

ED said it will continue to take comments and attempt to draft proposed regulatory language before the next meeting.

The negotiated rulemaking committee was unable to address other administrative and technical TEACH Grant issues, due to time constraints. ED said it will accept comments and circulate draft language  on the following issues before the next meeting.

TEACH Grant Service and Agreement Requirements

To meet the TEACH Grant service requirements, a recipient must serve as a full-time highly-qualified teacher in a high-need field at an elementary or secondary school serving low-income children. Failure to complete the service requirement turns the grant into an unsubsidized loan that must be repaid.

  • Education Service Agencies – Service and Repayment: The Higher Education Act was amended in 2008 to include education service agencies as meeting this requirement. The Department has not yet updated regulations to reflect the inclusion of education service agencies in the criteria and will draft this language before the February meeting. 
  • High-Need Field Fulfilling Agreement to Serve: In a statutory change implemented on July 1, 2010, the requirement that a TEACH Grant recipient serve in a high-need field was expanded to accommodate changes to the list of high-need fields. The HEOA was amended to allow a TEACH Grant recipient to qualify for the service requirement so long as they are teaching in a field that was at least designated high-need at the time the recipient applied for the grant or begins qualifying teaching service, even if the field is subsequently no longer designated as high-need. ED recommends changing regulatory language to reflect the change.

Eligibility for a New TEACH Grant after the recipient receives a discharge based on total and permanent disability

The Department lacks regulatory language to address circumstances where an individual has recovered from a disability which led to their discharge from a prior TEACH Grant agreement, and seeks a new TEACH Grant. Other federal student aid programs contain regulatory procedures for similar types of situations. As such, the Department proposes that the TEACH Grant eligibility requirements in this area be consistent with those governing other types of Federal student financial aid.

Discharge of the TEACH Grant agreement to serve based on the total and permanent disability of a TEACH Grant recipient

This issue concerns a regulatory change being proposed to conform the TEACH Grant Program regulations to changes already made to the Direct Loan Program regulations and put into practice by the higher education community.  Instead of receiving a three-year conditional discharge, TEACH Grant recipients would receive a discharge immediately, with possible reinstatement of the obligation to repay or serve under certain circumstances.  These circumstances include earning an annual income in excess of 100 percent of the poverty guideline for a family of two or receiving a new TEACH Grant or certain types of Federal student aid.