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July 20, 1999: Improve Teacher Quality

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“We have important decisions to make this year – to modernize our school buildings, to reduce class size, to hire more teachers. We must make certain there are enough resources for strong investments in education before we embark on a risky tax scheme that could squeeze out vital priorities in years to come. First things first.”

President Bill Clinton
July 20, 1999

Today, at the White House, President Clinton announced that $43 million in grants will be awarded this week to help states and communities recruit talented people into teaching and improve the quality of teaching nationwide. The President pledged to veto legislation being debated this week in the House that would undermine last year's commitment to reduce class size. The President also called on Congress to finish the job of hiring 100,000 new teachers to reduce class size in the early grades to a national average of 18, and to enact his proposals for school construction and teacher training.

Awarding Grants to Recruit Teachers and Improve Teacher Quality. President Clinton announced that his Administration will award a total of $43 million in grants this week to recruit new teachers and improve teacher quality:

  • $9.6 million will be awarded to 28 partnerships between school districts and universities to help provide college scholarships and other support to talented youth who agree to teach in high-poverty schools for at least one year for each year of financial support they receive; and
  • $33.4 million will be awarded to 24 states to support comprehensive statewide reforms to improve teacher quality, including strengthening teacher certification and licensing standards.

Challenging Congress to Keep Its Commitment on Class Size. Last fall, Congress made a down-payment on the President's initiative to hire an additional 100,000 well-prepared teachers to reduce class size in the early grades to a national average of 18. As a result, the Administration awarded $1.2 billion earlier this month to communities nationwide to hire the first 30,000 teachers for this fall. Unfortunately, the House is now considering a bill that backs away from last year's bipartisan commitment and fails to guarantee the continuation of efforts to reduce class size. The bill, H.R. 1995, would:

  • abolish a separate funding stream for class size reduction and replace it with a block grant that fails to guarantee that any funding will be used for hiring new teachers to reduce class size;
  • eliminate any focus on the early grades, where students learn to read and master the basics;
  • deny adequate funding to the communities that need it most; and
  • allow federal resources to replace local or state funding already being spent on class size reductions, instead of increasing the overall level of investment in public schools.

The President pledged to veto this bill if it comes to his desk in its current form, and is calling on the House to approve a substitute measure sponsored by Representative Martinez that would both improve teacher quality and maintain a commitment to a nationwide effort to reduce class size in the early grades.

Modernizing School Buildings and Improving Teacher Quality. The President called on Congress to pass his School Modernization Bond proposal, which provides $24.8 billion in tax credit bonds over two years to help state and local governments pay for school construction and renovation of up to 6,000 schools. The President's proposal has an estimated cost of $3.7 billion over five years, and is fully paid for in his budget.

The Republican alternative, which is part of the House Republican tax cut proposal, would address the needs of only one-tenth as many schools, and could cause delays in construction and encourage risky investment of taxpayer funds.

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