You may wonder why you should care that Congress recently reauthorized the federal Higher Education Act (HEA) - after all, what does higher education law have to do with public education?  Actually, the answer is: Plenty!  This enormous piece of federal legislation – HR 4137, now called the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which has been up for reauthorization since 2003 and was only recently reauthorized by Congress on July 30, 2008, contains numerous provisions about teacher quality, teacher preparation and teacher loan forgiveness.  Of course, the bulk of the HEA has to do with federal student aid and other higher education programs, but the focus of our analysis of the bill is centered on the provisions more directly related to public school educators mentioned above. 

While most of the public educator-related provisions in the bill relate to prospective and new teachers, there are other provisions on properly training and compensating mentor teachers and providing quality professional development to existing teachers. 

Overall, the bill contains some good provisions about accountability for quality teacher preparation. Preparation entities must show how teachers are prepared to effectively educate limited English proficient (LEP) students and students with disabilities, including training about how to be a participant in Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams. The Act also provides for grants to teacher preparation programs requiring, among other things, a year-long rigorous pre-service clinical program, a two-year induction period, and structured mentoring for new teachers. Competitive grants will also be available to eligible partnerships to improve the preparation of general education teacher candidates to ensure that they can effectively instruct students with disabilities in general education classrooms.

Earlier versions of the bill contained some troublesome provisions regarding merit pay, and TCTA contacted Congress to protest these provisions.  Thankfully, those provisions are not contained in the final bill.  In response to concerns from some of our members, TCTA also contacted Congress to make a plea to expand federal loan relief for more experienced educators.  Experienced teachers who took out Stafford or Direct loans between July 1, 1993 and September 30, 1998, have no forgiveness or deferment benefits unless these loans were paid in full before obtaining a new loan on or after October 1, 1998. Those taking out loans ON or AFTER October 1, 1998 do have loan forgiveness availability.  Unfortunately, although Congress did authorize a new federal loan forgiveness program for certain teachers, it is limited to teachers who complete the required teaching service on or after the date of the reauthorized Act.

TCTA’s compilation of relevant excerpts from the Act.