An idea a St. Louis historian had two years ago to have black noncommissioned officers teach school in inner cities when they retire from the service appears to be on the fast track in Congress.
Legislation that would expand the existing Troops to Teachers program to NCOs, sponsored by Sen. John C. Danforth, R-Mo., was approved Friday night as an amendment to the defense-authorization bill for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
For J.H. "Jack" Hexter, professor emeritus of history at Washington University, the Senate action is "a dream come true. It's a nice thing to happen to a man in his 80s who had never done a damned thing in politics until he was 81."
Danforth credits Hexter, now 83, with "leading the crusade." The senator said in an interview that he hoped the expanded program - Hexter also thought up the original program - would bring positive male role models into inner-city school districts that have far too few of them now.
"These NCOs have been in the business of training young males," Danforth said.
Troops to Teachers is a program enacted last year but only now beginning in earnest. It provides for retiring military personnel and civilian employees of the Pentagon and Energy Department to get grants of up to $5,000 each to meet the expense of earning teacher certification. It also offers salary subsidies of $25,000 a year for the first two years of teaching.
The original Troops to Teachers program applied only to personnel who, at the time of separation from service, had already obtained a bachelor's degree from college. That ruled out 96 percent of the NCOs - the very people Hexter and others had hoped to attract to the program. Minorities make up 34 percent of NCOs, compared with 13 percent of commissioned officers.
Danforth's amendment bridges the gap. NCOs leaving the service who complete their bachelor's degrees, using GI Bill funds or other benefits, would then be eligible for the Troops to Teachers benefits as well.
"A drill sergeant, when you strip it of the myth, is really a teacher," said Robert H. MacDonald, director of the Military Career Transition Program at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. His program, now four years old, has grown from 40 students to 800; of 167 graduates, 151 have been placed as teachers.
"Nobody's quit, and no one's been fired," MacDonald said of those placed. "They have all indicated they plan on teaching for the next 10 to 15 years. …