Democrats in both chambers of Congress have introduced a bill that would provide $3.4 billion in additional funding to improve the quality of teaching in the nation’s schools, including $200 million to recruit math and science teachers and another $200 million to develop data systems for tracking and analyzing student progress and train teachers in their use.

The bill has garnered support from at least 15 education organizations, but as of press time, no House or Senate Republicans had signed on as co-sponsors.

Dubbed the Teacher Excellence for All Children (TEACH) Act of 2005, the House version (H.R. 2835) was introduced by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and the Senate version (S. 1218) was introduced by Sens. Edward Kenned, D-Mass., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

The legislation looks to advance the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) by ensuring that children–and especially at-risk students–are taught by teachers with expertise in their subject areas. The bill also seeks to implement a teaching career ladder, identify and reward exceptional teachers with cash incentives, and keep the best educators and principals from leaving the field for higher-paying jobs.

“Teacher quality is the single most important factor in determining a child’s success in school,” said Miller, the senior Democrat on the influential House Education and Workforce Committee and one of the co-authors of NCLB. “Imagine a time when every classroom–even the toughest classrooms in the poorest schools–is taught by a highly qualified teacher. With this legislation we can take a giant step toward that goal.”

So far, Miller said, the bill has earned the backing of 15 education organizations: the Alliance for Excellent Education, American Federation of Teachers, Business Roundtable, Center for American Progress Action Fund, Children’s Defense Fund, Education Trust, New Leaders for New Schools, National Council of La Raza, National Council on Teacher Quality, National Education Association, New Teacher Center at UC Santa Cruz, Operation Public Education, Teach for America, Teacher Advancement Program Foundation, and The Teaching Commission.

“We know that every child deserves a high-quality teacher in his or her classroom,” wrote NEA President Reg Weaver in support of the legislation. “Too often, poor working conditions, low salary, and a lack of preparation and support [lead] to high turnover in our schools. This is especially true in schools of highest need, where the students are from low-income families and need the most help to succeed. This bill addresses these concerns with common-sense incentives for teachers to stay in the classroom.”

According to Miller’s office, if the bill were to pass, it would more than double the current federal investment in teacher quality and professional development. This investment primarily consists of nearly $3 billion for the Improving Teacher Quality state block-grant initiative.

Beyond this block-grant program, the TEACH Act would provide:

  • $2.2 billion for premium pay for teachers in high-need schools;
  • $300 million for state-of-the-art teacher induction programs;
  • $200 million for recruiting math and science teachers;
  • $200 million for building teaching career ladders;
  • $200 million for developing data systems and training teachers in their use;
  • $100 million in increased funding over current allocations for improving accountability in teacher preparation programs;
  • $100 million for improving principal training;
  • $50 million for improving professional development for veteran teachers; and
  • $50 million for peer mentoring and review programs for veteran teachers.

The $3.4 billion figure does not include additional funding for up-front tuition assistance for outstanding college undergraduates who promise to go into teaching, nor does it include student loan forgiveness for veteran teachers, Miller’s office said in a statement. The cost of those provisions would depend on the number of students and teachers who apply for and receive up-front tuition assistance or loan forgiveness.

But for the TEACH Act to provide this additional funding, Congress first would have to approve the bill and then make room for it in what is shaping up to be a slimmer-than-usual education budget.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are still wrangling over a spending plan for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. Although President Bush asked Congress to cut the overall education budget from $57 billion to $56 billion in 2006, he did ask for increases in several key areas–one of which was teacher pay, where he proposed $500 million for the creation of a new Teacher Incentive Fund similar to the one outlined in Miller’s proposal.

But Congress has indicated a difference of opinion. On June 16, Miller’s colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee proposed a spending plan that includes just $100 million for the president’s incentive fund. Lawmakers did, however, agree to restore $58 million to the Teacher Quality Enhancements grant program, which is designed to promote overall increases in teacher recruitment and licensure. Bush had asked Congress to cut that program–which was funded at $68 million in 2005–entirely in 2006.

With the uncertainty surrounding the 2006 budget, it’s unlikely the bill, even if passed, would begin making inroads in schools until 2007. Still, Miller and his supporters are encouraged by the outpouring of support the legislation has received from educational organizations.

In the House, the bill had an additional 53 co-sponsors, all Democrats, though Miller said he hopes the Republicans will come on board.

“I hope that my other colleagues, in both parties, will join this effort this year and help make a difference for our nation’s school children,” he said.

Links:

Rep. George Miller
http://www.house.gov/georgemiller/

Sen. Edward Kennedy
http://kennedy.senate.gov/

Sen. Dick Durbin
http://durbin.senate.gov/

National Education Association
http://www.nea.org