Clinton lauds Baltimore teacher in appeal for funds

Former soldier is product of program to staff schools

January 22, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton brought a Baltimore schoolteacher to the White House yesterday, calling him an example of how innovative federal spending can help school districts improve the quality of their teachers.

Such a program benefited Arthur Moore, 43, a special-education teacher at Harlem Park Middle School in West Baltimore, who began teaching in 1994 after 21 years in the Army. Moore tapped into a 5-year-old federal program that helps retiring members of the military pursue a career in public education.

After showcasing Moore to rally support for expanding the program, Clinton proposed more than $230 million to help elementary schools reduce class size by hiring more teachers, and to offer financial incentives to teachers working in poor and minority neighborhoods.

The proposals, to be included in the budget the administration will submit to Congress early next month, are intended to bolster Clinton's promise -- made in his State of the Union Address Tuesday night -- to enlarge and improve the nation's teacher pool for the 21st century.

"It is not the students who are failing," Clinton said. "The system is failing the students."

Moore, who spoke to education leaders and some members of Congress at the event yesterday, said he had entered the military because of its promise of financial security and personal growth.

"I always wanted to be a teacher," he said. "I had to put that dream on hold because my family was very, very poor."

Dropping his original plan to retire in Colorado after his career as an Army staff sergeant had ended, Moore decided to apply to the federal "Troops to Teachers" program. Since its inception in 1994, the program has placed 3,000 retiring military personnel in public schools, paying for the course work needed to pass certification exams and reimbursing local school districts for a portion of their salaries.

Moore said he had seen a flier for the program in Germany during his final tour of duty.

The president touted the program as a way for schools to capitalize on the qualities common in military personnel, notably discipline and a grounding in math and science. Clinton called for $18 million to preserve and expand "Troops to Teachers," which is scheduled to expire this year.

The president also:

Proposed $200 million in new funds for the hiring of 100,000 teachers to reduce elementary-school class sizes. The new money would help schools hire 8,000 teachers, while continuing to pay for 30,000 teachers who were hired last year.

Called for $27.5 million in new money to expand a program that offers scholarships to students who commit to teaching in high-poverty public schools. The new money would fund 7,000 such scholarships.

Proposed $10 million to train and recruit 1,000 new teachers for areas with high concentrations of American Indian and Alaska Native students.

The president said these initiatives will help states and school districts ensure that new teachers fulfill state certification requirements, pass performance exams and acquire expertise in the fields they teach, all pledges he made Tuesday night.

Republicans are promising to closely scrutinize Clinton's proposals, saying their party is wary of any legislation that might increase the federal government's role in deciding what school districts need and about hiring.

"We all agree, Republicans and Democrats, that we want to provide the best education for our children, but that's the only place we're in agreement" said Cynthia Bergman, a spokeswoman for Sen. Slade Gorton of Washington state, who is a leading Republican voice on education reform. "We can do it better if it can be run at the local level, instead of it being run by a bureaucrat in Washington, D.C."

Another skeptic, Rep. Bill Goodling, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said: "In so many places, [Clinton] doesn't say `encourage' or `suggest.' He says `It must happen.'"

Far removed from politics, Moore said his primary goal in 1999 is to be assigned to the same group of students for the next school year, when they will enter eighth grade. Moore, who teaches 12 students who have a range of reading problems and who all receive federal subsidies for school lunches, began teaching them when they were in sixth grade.

"Next year's their last year in middle school," Moore said. "We've got to get them ready for high school."

Pub Date: 1/22/99

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