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MSIs Seek To Defy Budget Trend By Lobbying for New Teacher Education Program

In the current fiscal climate, getting a new program approved and funded by Congress seems a tall order. But the White House and minority-serving institutions are doing just that in seeking support for a new teacher education program.

Historically Black colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal colleges could serve as Hawkins Centers of Excellence for teacher education under the plan put forward by the Obama administration. The White House wants $40 million in startup funding for this initiative, which would award competitive grants to minority-serving colleges to enhance their teacher education programs.

The administration outlined the plan in its 2012 budget last winter and cited its importance again recently in a new report on improving education outcomes for Hispanic children.

“Closing the achievement gap between African-American and Hispanic students and their White peers is a primary goal of the administration’s education agenda, and supporting the preparation of effective teachers for high-need schools is a key strategy toward reaching this goal,” said the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics in its new report, “Winning the Future: Improving Education for the Latino Community.”

Nationwide, more than 22 percent of public school students are Hispanic, but less than 7 percent of teachers are Hispanic, the report noted.

The program is named for the late Augustus Hawkins, a longtime congressman and former Congressional Black Caucus chairman who led the House of Representatives’ education committee in the 1980s and ’90s. Hawkins, the first Black U.S. House member from California, died in 2007 at age 100.

MSIs are firmly behind the budget request. “It’s a much needed program as our nation works to close achievement gaps,” says Edith Bartley, government affairs director at the United Negro College Fund.

Under the proposal, a minority-serving college could obtain $500,000 a year for five years for enhancements to teacher education programs.  Predominantly Black colleges, Asian American-serving institutions as well as Alaska Native-serving colleges also could apply for these funds.

Any new idea for a program generally faces two battles on Capitol Hill: one to gain authorization and a second to gain funding. In this case, Congress endorsed the idea in the 2008 renewal of the Higher Education Act. Now the priority is to find financial support for it.

“It was authorized in HEA but never funded,” says Sharon Robinson, president of the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education. Speaking at a recent forum on Hispanic education, she said the program, if funded, would greatly expand teacher education programs at minority-serving colleges.

Bartley says that, by strengthening teacher education programs, HBCUs, HSIs and tribal colleges could increase the number of minority teachers in high-need schools. The arguments are effective when talking to lawmakers—up to a point.

“There is bipartisan support,” says Bartley, “but it’s a tough budget time. A lot of members are focusing on making cuts.”

MSIs have come together to push for the program, she says, noting that education is a competitiveness and national security issue.

The plan would appear to have a steep challenge to gain funding in the GOP-led House, which recently approved a 2012 budget blueprint that would cut more than $700 billion from labor, education, health and human service programs. The Senate has yet to weigh in with details of its 2012 budget plan. But Bartley says it is still possible to fund new programs.

“Even in this climate, current programs will get funded and new programs will get funded,” she says. “But some things will be eliminated.”

The White House says the program is one of its top priorities, as it is designed to address the expected retirement of 1 million teachers in the near future. Another priority is the TEACH Campaign, through which the Hawkins program would increase the number, quality and diversity of teacher candidates, particularly at high-need schools.

“The Hawkins program and the TEACH Campaign provide avenues whereby 1.7 million new teachers can be recruited over the next seven years, particularly minority males, to pursue careers in the classroom,” the White House said in the “Winning the Future” report.

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