ASHINGTON -- President Clinton plans to ask Congress to spend $350 million over the next five years to help recruit and train teachers for impoverished school districts, administration officials said Wednesday.
Clinton is to announce the proposal in a speech on Thursday to the NAACP's national convention in Pittsburgh. Officials said the plan would be the centerpiece of the speech, in which the president will call again for support of his effort to set national standards for education and to raise low expectations that, he will argue, are holding back many poor students.
The president is already negotiating with the Republican-controlled Congress for $35 billion in college tuition assistance over the next five years. But he has come under fire from some liberals and members of minority groups, who contend that he is shorting the needs of students who are struggling in elementary or high school, with scant hope of attending college unless their education improves. In earlier budget negotiations, Clinton backed away from his proposal for $5 billion to rebuild deteriorating public schools.
The new proposal, administration officials said, dovetails with the president's broader effort to institute national voluntary testing against standards in reading and math, beginning in 1999. The president plans to say on Thursday that to meet those standards, poor students must have teachers with the background, the expertise and the commitment to help them succeed, officials said.
"We've got to set standards for those kids, and we've got to set standards for what's happening in those classrooms," one senior White House official said Wednesday.
The Department of Education estimates that because of rising enrollments and teacher retirements, the nation's public schools will need 1 million new teachers over the next five years.
Of those, about 350,000 will be needed in the poorest urban and rural schools, the administration says. The hope is that the new program will help train 10 percent of this number, some 35,000.
If it wins congressional approval, the program will begin in the fall of 1998. The administration hopes the effort will not only increase the number of teachers in poor districts but also improve their preparation.
Under the plan, grants would be offered through the Department of Education to postgraduate education training programs. To qualify for the grants, the training programs would have to form partnerships with poor school districts, either urban or rural, to recruit and train teachers.
Further, they would have to identify particular needs that those teachers would fill, like expertise in mathematics or English. A teacher might also be intended to match a district's "demographic needs" for, say, black or Hispanic educators to provide role models, said an official familiar with the plan's details.
The administration's hope is that many training programs will compete for the grants, giving the Department of Education its pick of the best prepared. Each program would have to demonstrate that with the grant it would increase the total number of teachers it prepares.
"They're going to have to increase their output for this," the official said, "not just maintain their output and shift their sources of funding."
The teacher training programs that received grant money would use it to help support students who promised to teach in poor districts for three years. Average tuition assistance for a participant would probably be about $3,000 a year, the official said, although some programs might also offer transportation or child care assistance to older students.
"We're deliberately building some flexibility in here," he said.
In response to the proposal, Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of the nation's largest urban public school systems, said: "Finally somebody is paying attention to what the need is. The shortage of teachers in the cities is already profound, and most urban school districts have a real problem recruiting and training teachers."
Casserly called the proposal "a real constructive start."
The president plans for the legislation creating the program to be sent to Congress later this summer. It is not clear what reception it will get; Republicans there rejected Clinton's $5 billion plan to rebuild schools, with some calling it an unwarranted federal intrusion into local affairs.
The administration's proposal is modeled on a program run by the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund to recruit and train teachers for poor schools. That program supplies grants covering 80 percent of tuition costs for teacher training.
Since 1989, the fund has spent about $40 million on 2,134 participants, said Bruce S. Trachtenberg, a spokesman.
"The next step," he said, "and the real test of the program,
will be, How much of a success will they be as teachers?"