In 1994, the Department of Defense launched the Troops to Teachers program to improve public education while helping veterans assimilate into civilian life. Funded by the Secretary of Education and managed by the Department of Defense for the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support (DANTES), the program offers stipends to eligible members of the armed forces to pursue teacher certification. In exchange, participants commit to at least three years teaching at 'high-need' or 'high-poverty' schools.
In the past 15 years, the program has benefited both job-seeking vets and teacher-seeking public schools. Participants tend to be more ethnically and racially diverse than the civilian teacher population and often specialize in subjects that school districts find hard to fill, such as science, math or special education. William P. McAleer, the top administrator in the Troops to Teachers program, notes that these are natural subjects for individuals who typically have experience working very technical jobs in the service.
The current eligibility rules, written when the military was downsizing, create a steep barrier for most recent vets. In addition to already possessing a baccalaureate degree, Troops to Teachers applicants must have six years of active duty experience. This effectively bars the incredibly large number of young vets returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from participating at a time when they need civilian job training more than ever.
From the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
One of the toughest symptoms of the current economic recession has been the steadily increasing unemployment rate, and it has hit the armed forces the hardest. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) graph above indicates, veterans who've served since September 2001 in almost all age categories have even higher jobless rates than civilians, and the situation seems to be getting worse. The BLS reports that in 2008 the unemployment rate among recent vets was 7.3 percent. More recent statistics suggest that the number may be as high as 18% for vets who've finished their service in the past three years - that's nearly twice the national average.
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Some work is already being done to help alleviate the problem. Senator Patty Murray, D-Washington, is developing legislation to increase unemployment benefits, add more vocational training programs and offer better support for vets starting their own businesses. Her bill would also provide grants to states to start a Veterans Conservation Corps that would employ veterans in projects to maintain local parks and forests, restore natural habitats and improve storm-water facilities. But work also needs to be done to bolster already existing vocational programs for vets - like Troops to Teachers.
In October, Congress introduced the Post-9/11 Troops to Teachers Enhancement Act. Sponsored in the Senate by John McCain, R-Arizona, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and in the House by Tom Petri, R-Wisconsin, and Joe Courtney, D-Connecticut, the bill seeks to expand both the scope and financing of the program. The most crucial change would be to allow vets with either four years of service or three months of continuous active duty since September 11, 2001 to participate. This opens Troops to Teachers up to the growing population of young Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.
In addition to the new eligibility rules, the bill would increase the annual funding for the program from $30 million to $50 million over the next five years. It would also create an advisory board to increase awareness of Troops to Teachers and ensure that it continues to meet the needs of both veterans and schools.
There is some concern that the demands of the health care debate will make it difficult to gather attention and support for the Troops to Teachers Enhancement Act. But the American Legion and the National Education Association (NEA) have both endorsed the expansion, and the House bill has already collected approximately 75 co-sponsors. Hopefully the bill will get pushed through soon - our vets and our schools need it.