Teacher Education Bill Prompts Controversy

By Dervarics, Charles | Black Issues in Higher Education, August 19, 1999 | Go to article overview

Teacher Education Bill Prompts Controversy


Dervarics, Charles, Black Issues in Higher Education


With teacher education a high priority for Congress this year, House Democrats are trying to ensure that any new federal legislation recognizes the potential role of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs).

The Smart Classrooms Act, H.R. 2390, introduced by a cross-section of Democrats, would encourage states to fund teacher education partnerships involving HBCUs and HSIs. Such partnerships could receive at least $20 million, and possibly more, from an estimated $1 billion new annual program.

The legislation from Rep. Matthew Martinez (D-Calif.), Major Owens (D-N.Y.), Rep. William Clay (D-Mo. ), and Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.) also would place a priority on serving high-poverty areas. States would get half of their money based on poverty rates for children ages 5 to 17, and local schools would get about half their funds based on school-age poverty rates.

"We have a window of opportunity, a great door of opportunity open right now for some serious education reform, and we have some funds to back it up," Owens says, referring to the federal government's expanding surplus and the need to spend some of it on education.

The bill also would provide states and school districts with funds to train paraprofessionals, create teaching academies, improve content standards, and pursue other K-12 education reforms. Teacher recruitment and education - including alternative methods to obtain teacher certification - also are part of the proposal. Over five years, Martinez has projected total funding of $7.5 billion for the initiative, along with other grants to promote educational improvement.

So far, however, the plan is taking a back seat to a Republican-sponsored initiative that would promote teacher enhancement - but at the expense of some existing federal programs.

The full House, in late July, approved the Teacher Empowerment Act (TEA), which would consolidate the federal government's Goals 2000 program and the president's class-size reduction initiative into a new program to further teacher development and education. The class-size reduction initiative provided $1.4 billion last year to help schools hire more teachers and avoid overcrowding in high-poverty schools. Talk of eliminating this program rankles many Democrats.

"Educationally, this is Robin Hood in reverse," Owens says of the GOP plan. "It will take from the poorest schools where education policy presently directs money, and spread it out and not provide any new resources.

The congressman called it another beachhead in Republican efforts to block grant federal education funds.

Republicans counter that their approach is the best way to promote state and local flexibility, noting that states and schools still could use TEA funds for teacher education. Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Education Committee, says qualified teachers are more important than simply using underqualified teachers to reduce class sizes.

"We worked hard to find the right balance between retaining and training quality teachers and reducing class size," Goodling says.

TEA, also known as H.R. 1995, gained House approval by a 239-185 vote, with 24 Democrats joining 215 Republicans in voting for the bill. Most Congressional Black Caucus members voted against the plan.

Despite the approval, however, the vote was far short of the two-thirds majority required to override an expected presidential veto. In addition to supporting the classsize reduction program, the White House also wants to preserve the integrity of the Goals 2000 program, aides say. …

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