Bush Touts Plans to Help Teachers At Teacher Education Conference
President Bush last week seized the opportunity of a White House conference to promote his plans to expand a college-loan-forgiveness program for teachers and set up a federal tax-deduction plan to repay those who have spent their own money on school supplies.
He highlighted the proposed policies, which are tucked into the administration's federal budget plan for fiscal 2003, at what was billed as a summit on teacher education, hosted by first lady Laura Bush. The goal of the March 5 event was to bring together educators and those who prepare them, public-policy organizations, business leaders, and foundations to discuss ways of improving teacher education programs.
"We're expecting a lot from our teachers," Mr. Bush said, referring to the "No Child Left Behind" Act of 2001, which he signed into law in January. The reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, in part, overhauled the preparation, recruitment, and induction of the nation's teachers. ("States Gear Up for New Federal Law," Jan. 16, 2002.)
"We expect them to know their subjects," the president said. "We want new teachers to be able to pass rigorous examinations so as to not only earn the confidence of parents and administrators, but to increase the professionalism of a very important field."
The recruitment and retention of talented individuals is paramount and can be hastened by embellishing a current loan- forgiveness plan for those who dedicate their lives to the profession, Mr. Bush said in a speech in Eden Prairie, Minn., the day before the White House gathering. Under the budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, educators who agreed to teach mathematics, science, or special education would receive a maximum of $17,500 in forgiveness of federal student loans. Such jobs are particularly hard to staff.
Other details of the president's plan have yet to be pounded out, according to Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for Rep. Lindsey O. Graham, R-S.C., who is expected to introduce a bill on the measure over the next few weeks.
The conference here, which drew a who's who of members of Congress and big thinkers and players in the world of education—with one notable exception—served as a primer on the history of teacher preparation and the issues of certification and professional development. It also showcased successful alternative teacher-preparation programs, but ultimately did not suggest new solutions to the problems in the profession.
President Bush touched on such issues, however, and followed up on his loan-forgiveness proposal with a plan to allow teachers to deduct the money they spend on school supplies from their federal taxes.
Teachers "now spend $400 out of their pockets to pay for supplies," the president said. "If a business person can deduct a meal, a teacher ought to be able to deduct the cost of pencils or a Big Chief tablet."
Such privileges are not currently available to teachers under federal tax law, according to the White House.
Mr. Bush also announced a partnership between the Department of Education and the American Federation of Teachers to set up a national databank of research on reading instruction that will be accessible to educators.
The program, which will be financed by a federal grant, will grow out of an AFT effort already in place, said Alex Wohl, a spokesman for the union. Further details were unavailable.
Such information is critical to instruction, said Mrs. Bush, a former elementary school teacher and school librarian. Without it, teachers may not be using the most effective tools to help their students learn, she said.
Despite the applause that greeted the president's speech at the White House session, some in the education community were quick to criticize his budget plans.
"The ink is barely dry on the new law, and already the federal budget shirks commitments made to high standards and student achievement," Bob Chase, the president of the National Education Association, said in a statement. His organization was not invited to the summit on teacher preparation.
The union contends that while Mr. Bush touts $4 billion is authorized in the ESEA to improve teacher quality, the actual amount available in his budget proposal for such endeavors is $2.85 billion, said Rebecca Fleischauer, an NEA spokeswoman. That means the president hopes only to maintain current funding levels, which do not keep pace with inflation and increased enrollment, she said.
The president also has proposed cutting funding for several critical teacher-quality programs including one that teaches educators to use technology, she said.
Calls to the White House about the NEA's criticisms were not returned.
Vol. 21, Issue 26, Page 18