(The Center Square) – The U.S. Department of Defense needs to figure out if its Troops-to-Teachers program is meeting its goal to reduce teacher shortages in high-need schools and key subjects such as math, science and special education.
A report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that it is unclear if the Troops-to-Teachers program is meeting its goals because the Department of Defense lost access to participant data when it canceled the program in 2020, has not used the data from annual performance reports and has not worked with the Department of Education on the program as required.
The Troops-to-Teachers program, which started in 1992, makes grants to states to help military personnel become teachers. The program also provided a stipend of up to $5,000, a bonus of up to $5,000 if they agree to teach in an eligible school for not less than three school years, and a bonus of up to $10,000 if they agree to teach in a high-need school.
However, most participants didn’t get those bonuses after 2017. Department of Defense officials said that Troops-to-Teachers participants generally have been ineligible to receive program stipends since 2017 because nearly all participants were eligible for educational benefits under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, making them ineligible for the Troops-to-Teachers program stipends.
Participation in the Troops-to-Teachers program dropped significantly over the years. Participation declined from fiscal years 2014 through 2020. During this period, the program registered about 50,000 participants, and, of those, 26,505 were hired. Program hires were more than 70% lower in fiscal year 2020 compared with fiscal year 2014 – dropping from 7,718 to 1,450 hires.
“DOD noted several reasons for the declines in overall participation and program hires. For example, from fiscal years 2014 to 2020, the program’s primary method of recruiting participants changed, and it reached fewer servicemembers during their transition out of the military,” according to the report. “In addition, as previously discussed, DOD made a number of structural changes in how it administered state grants during this time period, and the program’s reach declined from 54 states and territories in fiscal year 2014 to 31 states in fiscal year 2018.”
The Department of Defense canceled the program due to the realignment of agency resources in 2020, but that proved short-lived. In December 2021, federal law directed the Department of Defense to reinstate the program, with a sunset date of July 1, 2025.
“When Congress reinstated the Troops-to-Teachers program as mandatory in December 2021, it did not appropriate a specific funding amount for it,” according to the report. “This left DOD to determine a funding level for the program.”
In September 2022, the Department of Defense awarded about $1.38 million for fiscal year 2022 to 12 program grantees, according to DOD officials. But questions remain about whether the program is doing what it was designed to do.
“Current information about the program’s effectiveness is limited,” according to the report. “Despite taking steps to standardize the performance information reported by grantees through their annual performance reports, DOD has not used these reports to determine whether the program is meeting each of its stated goals across grantees. Without a mechanism to assess performance data from grantees, DOD cannot fully report on grantee performance, including the extent to which they are serving high-need schools – a key goal of the program. The lack of such a mechanism also hinders a comprehensive assessment of the program.”