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,"
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. …