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HOUSE COMMITTEE MARKS-UP TEACHER QUALITY BILL: Proposal Includes Loan Forgiveness for Teachers

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"More than half of the 2.2 million teachers that America's schools will need to hire over the next 10 years will be first-time teachers."

On June 10, two bills that are designed to improve the recruitment, training, and retention of high-quality teachers in high-needs areas were marked up by the House Education and Workforce Committee. Both bills were reported out of committee and are now ready for consideration on the floor of the House of Representatives.

H.R. 438, the Teacher Recruitment and Retention Act of 2003, introduced by Rep. Joe Wilson (R-SC), would build on the current $5,000 loan forgiveness provision in the Higher Education Act. It would increase college loan forgiveness to up to $17,500 for every math, science, and special education teacher who teaches for five years in a Title I school. This provision would not replace the current $5,000 loan forgiveness program for every Title I teacher. The committee rejected amendments that would have made the additional loan forgiveness provision available to Title I teachers in all subjects, Head Start teachers, and teachers in rural school districts.

Ready-to-Teach Act Receives Committee Approval

The second bill approved by committee would improve the quality of teachers produced by teacher training programs at institutions of higher education. It would also raise standards for teacher certification and licensure at the state level. H.R. 2211, the Ready-to-Teach Act, would hold teacher-training programs accountable for the teachers they produce and ensure that they possess the necessary skills to be highly qualified and ready to teach when they enter the classroom. It would also work to ensure that states only allow highly qualified individuals to teach in their schools.

Under the Ready-to-Teach Act, 45 percent of available funds would go to states to help them reform teacher certification requirements, provide alternatives to traditional teacher certification programs, and help them attract qualified individuals from other professions into the classroom. The bill would also allow states to develop and implement strategies to attract highly qualified teachers and principals into traditionally hard-to-staff areas.

For instance, it would allow for differential and bonus pay for principals and teachers in high-needs subjects such as reading, math, science, and special education, as well as teachers in high-poverty or rural schools. It would encourage teacher advancement and retention activities by channeling high-quality teachers into careers as mentors and exemplary teachers.

For institutions of higher education, 45 percent of available funds would go toward partnership grants to teacher training programs in return for increased accountability measures and higher standards for graduates. These reforms would be designed to ensure that graduates are highly qualified before they leave a college campus. Grantees could use funds to provide sustained and high-quality clinical experience to their students before they enter the classroom. Additionally, funding could be made available for ongoing professional development once a graduate enters the classroom.

According to Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), the Chairman of the 21st Century Competitiveness Subcommittee, “More than half of the 2.2 million teachers that America’s schools will need to hire over the next 10 years will be first-time teachers. For this reason,” he says, “the nation’s attention has increasingly focused on the role that institutions of higher education and states play in ensuring that new teachers have the content knowledge and teaching skills they need to ensure that all students are held to higher standards.”

The remaining 10 percent of the Ready-to-Teach Act will go toward teacher recruitment grants. Money awarded under this section will allow states or institutions of higher education alike to award scholarships to help students pay the costs of tuition, room, board, and other expenses related to completing a teacher preparation program. It also allows grantees to provide support services to scholarship recipients to help them complete their postsecondary education. Funds can also be used for teacher induction programs for former scholarship recipients during the first three years of their teacher career.

To address the problem of a lack of minority teachers in our nation’s classrooms, the subcommittee passed an amendment by Rep. Max Burns (R-GA) that would create “teacher centers of excellence.” Specifically, the amendment would target historically minority-based colleges to establish centers that would recruit and train minority college students to become highly qualified teachers. It was supported by the United Negro College Fund and the Hispanic Education Coalition and was adopted unanimously by voice vote.

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