By Andy Ross
Killeen Daily Herald
New legislation striving to broaden a federal program that helps veterans turn to teaching careers is being welcomed in Texas, where military communities, including Fort Hood's, are prime beneficiaries.
The Troops to Teachers program, established in 1994, provides financial incentives for former service members to teach in school districts that serve a high percentage of low-income students.
In Texas, more veterans take advantage of the program each year than in any other state, said Meryl Kettler, the Texas Troops to Teachers coordinator.
"Well over 2,000 of our folks have been hired across the state," Kettler said. "The Central Texas area - Killeen, Copperas Cove, and down to Austin - is probably the number two concentration, with San Antonio being the number one."
A bipartisan House resolution, known as the Troops to Teachers Enhancement Act of 2011, seeks to increase the number of service members eligible to participate in TTT as well as expand the number of school districts where stipends that are part of the program can be offered.
When asked about the legislation this week, Kettler stressed that if passed, the resolution would be a step in the right direction.
"The bottom line is it attempts to broaden out the number of school districts where individuals can work off their commitment," Kettler said. "When potential teachers accept funding, they are signing a commitment and what this does is expand the definition of a qualifying district so more districts are included."
According to figures from Kettler's office, the Killeen Independent School District has hired more than 200, or 9 percent, of the total 2,240 individuals across Texas who have participated in TTT since 1994.
"Killeen ISD has been a real beneficiary of the great talents of our retired military members who have chosen to become teachers in their second career," Kettler said. "With the hope for re-authorization of the national Troops to Teachers program in the upcoming year, we anticipate a continued mutually beneficial relationship between Texas TTT and Killeen ISD."
Steve Cook, the KISD executive director of personnel services, could not be reached for comment.
Under current law, eligible military members who qualify for TTT can receive stipends up to $5,000 toward teaching certification costs.
Larger bonuses also are offered to veterans who begin teaching in districts where large numbers of students qualify for the free lunch program. In exchange for the funds, people commit to teaching for specified time frames.
According to a statement from the Military Officers Association of America, the Troops to Teachers Enhancement Act would "help re-energize the Troops to Teachers program by making the program much more accessible and attractive to younger service members who have served since 9/11."
John Stone, communications director for U.S. Rep. John Carter, R-Round Rock, said the Troops to Teachers Enhancement Act has been included in the National Defense Authorization bill.
Stone said Carter intends to support passage of the bill, which would realign the program under the Defense Department instead of the Education Department.
Contact Andy Ross at email@example.com or (254) 501-7468. Follow him on Twitter at KDHeducation.