May 07, 2015

Hatch, Warner, Joyce and Kilmer Urge Improvement for Loan Assistance Programs for Teachers

Washington, D.C.—Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, along with Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., Representative David Joyce, R-Ohio, and Representative Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., sent a letter to the Department of Education recommending measures to simplify the loan forgiveness process for teachers. The letter cited department statistics indicating that the United States is in dire need of more teachers, and an effort to improve the loan assistance programs could potentially attract more talented educators to our highest-needs classrooms.

“Our top priority in improving education outcomes in the United States should be refining the incentives that  attract talented teachers to the classroom, and help them to stay,” Senator Hatch said. “Our nation needs more high-quality teachers in our low-income schools. Making teacher loan assistance programs more efficient is a commonsense investment in our future that will pay off for generations." 

“Every child, regardless of their background, deserves a fair shot at a quality education that will help them succeed,” said Sen. Warner. “We have to make sure that quality teachers are getting the resources and support they need to keep them in the classrooms where they are needed most. Unfortunately, our current federal grant and loan forgiveness programs for teachers are a jumble of uncoordinated programs that are often too difficult to navigate. We have a responsibility to our teachers, students, families and taxpayers to do better.”

"Providing a high quality education for our nation’s children must be a top priority, and that begins with high quality teachers,” Rep. Joyce said. "We have a real problem here. In order to solve it, it only makes sense that we make it easier and more enticing for our best and brightest to not just enter our classrooms, but also stay there.”

“My folks were both public school teachers and they taught me to value the doors that a good education can open,” said Kilmer. “It’s why we should encourage newly minted teachers to start their career in the schools where they are needed most. But programs to help ease the burden of teacher loans all too often don’t accomplish that goal. Instead, they end up leaving many qualified candidates with costlier loan payments and more debt. It’s time to create a more effective approach that gives teachers the support they need to make a difference in the lives of kids everywhere.” 

The text of the letter, as it was sent to the department, is below.


The Honorable Arne Duncan

Secretary of Education

400 Maryland Avenue, SW

Washington, DC 20202


Dear Secretary Duncan:

            Few jobs are more difficult than teaching in a high-needs school, yet our public education system does a notably poor job of supporting the teachers doing this critical work.  As a result, we lose almost 50 percent of our teachers within their first five years of teaching. The Department has estimated a need to hire 430,000 new teachers by 2020. To accomplish this long-term goal, we need a robust pipeline that encourages teachers to teach where they are most needed and does a better job of supporting them once they enter the classroom. Some of the best levers at our disposal to attract and retain talent in the teaching profession are through federally sponsored grant and loan assistance programs. However, recent data indicates that these programs are poorly administered and in need of change.

            Today’s teacher loan assistance options have not provided sufficient financial relief to teachers willing to work in high-need fields or low-income schools. The current system of federal assistance programs available to teachers is a complex patchwork of loans and grants that can be difficult to navigate. For example, from 2008-2013, only 113,065 teachers—roughly 3 percent of the teaching force in the United States—received teacher loan forgiveness, and the Department of Education distributes only 15,000 TEACH grants to prospective teacher candidates each year. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that only 19 percent of the potentially eligible population for the TEACH Grant Program are benefitting from this program.These anemic participation rates indicate that the Department could do more to simplify the loan forgiveness process, disseminate program information to eligible teachers, and inform candidates of the terms of their eligibility.

            A report recently released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), entitled “Better Management of Federal Grant and Loan Forgiveness Programs for Teachers Needed to Improve Participant Outcomes,” highlighted a number of concerns about the efficacy of these programs—particularly, the TEACH Grant Program. According to the report, of the more than 112,000 TEACH Grants awarded since 2008, 36,000 of those grants have already converted into unsubsidized loans, due in large part to recipients failing to meet and understand the stringent requirements of the TEACH Grant Program. Meanwhile, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that only 19 percent of the potentially eligible population for the TEACH Grant Program are benefitting from the program. These conversions leave recipients with unanticipated debt and suggest that the grant as currently structured is not an effective incentive to keep teachers in high-need classrooms.

            For various reasons, many of our highest need schools and districts have a more difficult time attracting talent. Moreover, these schools and districts often lack the proper tools to recruit and maintain their most valuable assets. Providing better assistance for teachers to finance their higher education can be a valuable recruitment and retention tool. To improve our schools, we should prioritize the needs of the teaching candidates and established practitioners who are the drivers of student achievement at the helm of our nation’s classrooms. We look forward to working with you to improve these programs and embolden new teachers to enter into the schools where their talent can have the most transformative effects.


U.S. Senator Orrin Hatch       

U.S. Senator Mark Warner

U.S. Representative David Joyce

U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer