Committee Cuts Funds for Teaching-Standards Board

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All the federal funding that now goes to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards would be shifted to block grants for teacher training, under a plan narrowly approved last week by the House education committee.

Committee Chairman Bill Goodling, R-Pa., who proposed the measure, said the $18.5 million in funding would give governors an incentive to improve the quality of the teaching force in their states.

By a vote of 19-18, Republican members of the Education and the Workforce Committee defeated an alternative Democratic amendment based on President Clinton's proposal to hire 100,000 new teachers, thereby letting Mr. Goodling's initiative stand.

"In my 22 years in education, quality was always the name of the game," Mr. Goodling, a former public school teacher and administrator, said during a press conference before the March 18 vote. "There is no teacher shortage. It was all drummed up. It has nothing to do with reality."

During two days of revising legislation to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, committee members also approved a bipartisan plan to lower interest rates on new student loans, a proposal to forgive the student loans of teachers who teach in high-poverty schools, and a proposed $140 million program that would provide support services andinformation on federal aid for college to low-income middle school students.

By moving those and other proposals through the House committee, lawmakers are one step closer to completing the reauthorization of the HEA, which governs federal teacher training efforts and most student loan and grant programs.

Wrong Figures

The nonprofit, privately organized National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, which offers voluntary certification for teachers who meet advanced teaching standards, is praised by supporters for setting high expectations for what teachers should know and be able to do.

But Mr. Goodling said the board has wasted public funds, criticizing it for spending what he says is $500 million of federal money.

"And we've got for that just 511 certified teachers," Mr. Goodling told other committee members.

But those figures, which Mr. Goodling cited shortly before the committee voted to defeat the Democratic teacher training proposal, are inaccurate, said Sally Mernissi, the vice president of the Southfield, Mich.-based board.

The board has certified 912 teachers and has received just $49 million in federal funds since 1991, Ms. Mernissi said.

"I don't know where that math was coming from," Ms. Mernissi said. "We have no idea why [Mr. Goodling] targeted us."

Because of the time involved in creating standards and assessments, the board did not begin certifying teachers until 1995, Ms. Mernissi said. There are now more than 2,200 candidates for board certification.

Democratic lawmakers also expressed concern over the plan to cut a program that has gained bipartisan support in the past.

"We ought to be promoting the National Board for Professional Teaching," said Rep. Robert E. Andrews, D-N.J. "This is a program that has enjoyed bipartisan support. It doesn't make sense to walk away from it."

Student Loans

The committee's high-ranking Republican and Democratic members did manage to agree on a plan that would resolve the contentious issue of how low to set interest rates on federally backed student loans.

During the last reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in 1993, lawmakers crafted a plan that would, in effect, lower interest rates to 6.9 percent from the current 8.2 percent by July 1 of this year.

But many legislators feared the scheduled change would make it unprofitable for banks to lend to students, thereby pushing them out of federal guaranteed-loan programs.

Under the House committee's new plan, students would pay an interest rate of 6.9 percent while they are in school, and 7.4 percent after that. To keep the student-loan program financially appealing to lenders, however, the committee's proposal would effectively pay banks $300 million in federal subsidies every year for five years.

If the proposal became law, someone with $20,000 worth of student debt would save more than $1,000 using a 10-year repayment plan, said Erica Adelsheimer, the legislative director of the United States Student Association, a Washington-based nonprofit organization representing postsecondary students.

In other action, committee members approved a Democratic proposal that would provide up to $17,750 in loan forgiveness for the last two years of undergraduate study for teachers who work in high-poverty public or private schools. Teachers would not qualify for the program until their third year of teaching in an eligible school.

Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., also gained adequate support from the committee's GOP members to pass his $140 million plan to link colleges and universities with middle schools in low-income communities. The institutions would tell students early on what types of federal funds they could receive to attend college, and then provide subsequent support services such as tutoring and mentoring programs.

Senate education committee members have yet to release their proposals for the Higher Education Act, but say they expect to do so within the next few weeks.

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