A nearly 30-year-old Department of Defense program intended to help service members transition to education careers in their civilian life has ended, causing some in the military community – including the National Guard and reserves – not to reenlist.
Cpl. Judy Aragon, who teaches kindergarten at Lockwood Elementary School in Montana, will mark nine years in the Army National Guard in January. She currently serves at Joint Force Headquarters in Montana. But because of the sunsetting of the Troops to Teachers program, that’s where her service will end.
“It definitely messed with the retention side of things. So I decided I’m not going to reenlist because of that,” Aragon said.
Established in 1993, the Troops to Teachers program ended Oct. 1 after “the DOD realigned TTT program resources to higher priority programs more closely aligned to the National Defense Strategy,” according to the Defense Activities for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES) website.
Aragon, who is in her second year teaching at Lockwood, initially learned about Troops to Teachers through the ROTC program at Montana State University Billings.
“They were sending me a bunch of different job openings before I started [at Lockwood Elementary] and the rep that was talking to me, he would check up on me, chat with me,” Aragon said. “I let him know when I got my job at Lockwood.”
Though she said she “didn’t really get much” out of the program before it sunsetted, she would have been eligible for a $10,000 bonus. That money, she said, would have gone toward paying down $50,000 of student-loan debt.
When news first broke that the program would be ending, Aragon said the military community was angry and “couldn’t understand why this was happening” – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was definitely disheartening, especially for those of us who were just finishing,” she said.
VSOs back Troops to Teachers
The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Student Veterans of America and Disabled American Veterans co-wrote a letter to Congress in September detailing what they argue is the importance of the program.
Additionally, the Legion issued a resolution in 2017 supporting the continuation of Troops to Teachers.
A 2006 Government Accountability Office report determined Troops to Teachers brought more men and minorities into education. More than 100,000 veterans have made post-military careers in education as a result of the program, according to an Army benefits fact sheet.
In recent years, Troops to Teachers cost roughly $15 million to administer.
If she could speak to Congress about the end of the program, Aragon said, she would explain the hardships teachers face and what it means to have support in building a civilian career.
“We’re teaching young kids to better our future,” she said. “They are our future, and we are already experiencing low salaries, low wages and it’s been really hard for us. And the fact that we have to pay out of pocket for a lot of our supplies, a lot of our books… Especially as something you look forward to as a veteran, it’s kind of nice to be able to see that when we go back to the civilian side, they are willing to help us out.”
Melanie Olmstead, executive director of American Board, said in a statement that the organization was “saddened to hear of the sunsetting of the Troops to Teachers program.”
“At American Board, we believe Veterans are a natural fit for the classroom. With their real-world experience and leadership skills, Veterans are able to set the very best examples for their students. Therefore, American Board remains committed to serving our Active Duty Military, Veterans, and their spouses as they pursue teaching careers. We do so by providing the most streamlined and affordable path to teacher certification available. American Board was a proud partner with Troops to Teachers, and we now transition that important work to a partnership with DOD SkillBridge.”
A handful of state offices, according to DANTES, will be working with program participants until May 2022.