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Published in Print: October 7, 1998, as Teacher Training Figures Prominently in Higher Ed. Act

Teacher Training Figures Prominently in Higher Ed. Act

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Higher education legislation sailed through the House and the Senate last week, raising hopes that Congress would see fit to fund its new teacher-training initiatives this year.

"Congress has recognized a clear need for new teachers over the next decade," said Nicholas Michelli, the dean of Montclair State University's college of education and human services in Upper Montclair, N.J. The college works with schools in Newark, Paterson, and other areas to recruit students and encourage them to become teachers.

Nicholas Michelli

"The structure is here," Mr. Michelli added. "Now we have to work on it and show it will make a difference."

Both houses passed a compromise version of HR 6, the bill reauthorizing the Higher Education Act of 1965 and governing federal student-aid and teacher-development programs for the next five years.

Negotiated over the past two years, the measure is considered the first major piece of education legislation to reach President Clinton's desk without a veto threat this session. Lawmakers from both parties last week touted its $300 million in grants aimed at recruitment and college-level training for K-12 teachers. Negotiators also championed the bill's student-aid package.

"I think we've made it clear in Congress that we intend to move toward more academic training for people who are going to be teaching in our nation's classrooms," said Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., a Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee member who worked on the panel that hammered out the party and chamber differences.

President Clinton was expected to sign the bill late last week. The Department of Education was also on board, despite Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley's public reservations about the formulation of the student-loan rate--which members of Congress declared the lowest in 17 years.

Highlights, Funding

The conference committee's report on the bill, passed on a voice vote in the House on Sept. 28 and 96-0 in the Senate on Sept. 29, includes plans to:

  • Replace a dozen teacher-preparation programs with a state block grant to boost teacher certification and create incentives for teachers to study in college the subjects they plan to teach;
  • Require report cards on teacher colleges and parental access to teachers' professional qualifications;
  • Forgive loans for education students who go on to work in low-income districts;
  • Establish a mentoring and scholarship outreach program for low-income schoolchildren who aspire to college; and
  • Boost student aid by $1 billion each year by maintaining the 7.43 percent student-loan interest rate, cut from 8.23 percent earlier this year, along with annual Pell Grant increases that include a $1,500 boost for the 1999 academic year, and more money for work-study programs, historically black colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions, and tribal colleges.

"If I had told you a year ago that the Republicans and Democrats would pass this [package of increased aid], a lot of people would have said, wait a minute, that runs against the grain of what the majority is saying," said Rep. Chaka Fattah, a Democrat from Pennsylvania who originally sponsored the outreach plan, which he says will help 1.5 million schoolchildren attend and pay for college. "You really have to credit the leadership."

Rep. Bill Goodling, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said he and his colleagues focused on basic goals: "The key here is quality. To improve the quality of our students, we must have high-quality teachers in the classroom."

Rep. Goodling himself compromised, leaving the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards intact despite his earlier proposal to cut its funding. Representatives of the private, nonprofit board based in Southfield, Mich., said last week they were pleased with the bill. ("Senate OKs HEA Bill That Would Streamline Teacher Ed.," Aug. 5, 1998.)

However, the bill merely authorizes what is to be spent on designated programs. The administration and education advocates now want congressional appropriators to come up with the funding to bring its provisions to life.

"We had an excellent HEA bill in the past, but no funding for it," Mr. Michelli said.

Penelope Earley, the senior director of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, based in Washington, believes the structure of the bill will make it easier to get funding. For the past decade, teacher-training funding was buried within the act and considered just another of a dozen "boutique" programs, she said. Its prominent placement in the bill changes that, she added.

"By adding the potential for some funding, Congress is sending a strong message that, for the purposes of good, reasonable policy, we need to have more institutions of higher education and K-12 working together," Ms. Earley said.

Ms. Earley and Mr. Michelli, like other advocates who favored earlier versions of the bill, said they hope the Clinton administration will use its discretion to encourage the targeting of minorities in federally funded teacher-recruitment programs. An attempt to include such a provision in the HEA bill failed because of opposition from House leaders who didn't want to authorize the race-specific programs.

As for training teachers already in classrooms, Ms. Earley said that issue will be addressed next year in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Goals 2000 reform program.

Vol. 18, Issue 6, Page 26

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