Billion dollars to cut class sizes;International news;News amp; Opinion

19th November 1999 at 00:00
Jon Marcus reports on the battle between President Clinton and the Republican-led Congress over teacher recruitment


AFTER partisan divisions nearly derailed the proposal, the United States Congress and President Clinton have agreed on a sweeping plan to allocate more than $1 billion to hire thousands of new teachers for American schools.

Mr Clinton agreed that local school districts could have some - but not total - discretion over how they spend the money, and can use up to 25 per cent of it for to train current teachers rather than hire new ones.

He wanted schools to be required to hire enough teachers to reduce the pupil-teacher ratio to 18-1, beginning in the earliest grades first, before the money could be used for anything else. Republicans said school districts that did not believe they needed additional teachers should be allowed to divert the money to other purposes.

The final, seemingly subtle compromise reflects a wide ideological gap between the Democratic president and the Republican Congress, which prefers to see greater local control of schools and a minimum of centralised federal involvement. Republicans initially attempted to provide all the money directly to the schools to use how they pleased.

The allocation represents the second instalment of a seven-year campaign to hire 100,000 new teachers, the principal goal of Mr Clinton's education policy, which he has made a top priority in this year's budget negotiations. Last year, according to the government, federal funding allowed for the hiring of 29,000 new teachers toward the 2.2 million expected to be needed in the next 10 years.

Education is a major issue in the newly-started political campaigns for president, and both Republicans and Democrats agree that there will be vast increases in funding. The dispute is over how it should be spent.

Under their final compromise, the parties agreed that the bulk of the money will go toward hiring new teachers, but increased from 15 to 25 per cent the amount that could be spent instead on teacher training.

"Class size reduction is something that's so clearly beneficial to our students' ability to learn and teachers' ability to teach effectively that it really somewhat bewilders me that it is standing in the way of conclusion on some of these budget decisions," a frustrated Education Secretary Richard Riley said during negotiations.

Nine per cent of education funding comes from the federal government.

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