Senate OKs HEA Bill That Would Streamline Teacher Ed.
Members of the House and Senate are set to reconcile their competing plans to ensure new teachers are well prepared for the classroom.
In voting 96-1 to renew the Higher Education Act for five years, the Senate last month accepted a proposal that would authorize $300 million over five years in competitive grants to improve teacher education and recruitment programs.
Specifically, it would consolidate the federal government's myriad teacher education initiatives into two grant programs. The bill calls for allocating $150 million to states to reform their teacher preparation requirements. The other $150 million would be used for partnerships between universities and disadvantaged schools to upgrade the quality of teaching.
In May, the House approved its own version of the HEA reauthorization, 414-4, calling for $18.5 million a year for teacher training. While similar to the Senate measure in intent, the House bill would consolidate current programs into only one grant to states. It also proposes that 70 percent of the federal funds go to local partnerships and only 30 percent to states.
The differences will be taken up by a House-Senate conference committee. When the committee will go to work has yet to be determined.
Legislators in both houses are "all on the same page with wanting to do the right thing," said Amy Wilkins, a senior associate with the Education Trust, a nonprofit organization in Washington that advocates high standards and equity in education. "The real question is: Will people be able to overcome...pride of authorship in exchange for really good policy?"
Focus on Teachers
The newly passed Senate bill aims to raise state standards for teachers, boost their assessment scores, and create opportunities for professional development. It would require states that accept funding to increase the percentage of K-12 classes taught by educators in their areas of expertise and to hire teacher candidates who integrate technology into the classroom.
"You can't realistically expect students' performance to improve unless you also focus on those doing the teaching," Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., a member of the Labor and Human Relations Committee who lobbied for improved teacher accountability, said in a recent interview. "The more academic instruction we have...the better our teaching corps will be."
The plan also would offer incentives to teach in needy districts by forgiving up to $8,000 in student loans for those who did so.
"This is the strongest piece of the entire bill," said Penelope Earley, the senior director for the Washington-based American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. "There have been a number of reports...showing a teacher shortage. We want to make sure there are enough teachers and that they are well prepared."
The Senate bill does not mention funding for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which offers voluntary certification for educators who meet high standards. The House bill, however, would eliminate federal funding for the organization. In fiscal 1998, the NBPTS received $18.5 million from the federal government, said Sally Mernissi, vice president of the Southfield, Mich.-based board.
Despite the HEA proposals, however, funding could survive in a separate appropriations bill, David Bryant, a senior associate for government relations with the National Education Association in Washington, said in an interview.
The bill also sets parameters on the costs of higher education.
Under both the House and Senate plans, the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans would drop to 6.8 percent from the current 7.6 percent for students still in school, and to 7.4 percent from the current 8.2 percent after graduation.
Supporters note that the decrease would save students substantial amounts of money. But opponents--including President Clinton--say it would allow lenders to collect billions in federal subsidies because the government would pay the lenders to continue in the student-lending business, which banks contend is unprofitable at the lower interest rate. The Office of Management and Budget estimated the bill would provide $2.4 billion in subsidies during the five-year time frame to make up for the difference in interest rates.
Other provisions in the bill include increasing the maximum annual Pell Grant for needy college students. By 2003-2004, awards will be worth $5,800.
Separately, the Department of Education last month cut interest rates for students who consolidate their direct student loans with federally guaranteed student loans by Sept. 30. A student with a $1,000 loan who consolidates will save about $50, said Jane Glickman, a spokeswoman for the department.
Vol. 17, Issue 43, Page 33