Will Funds for New Teachers Boost Inner-City Schools?

The money Congress approved to hire teachers nationwide will go mostly to needy schools in big cities such as New York and Los Angeles, with less to suburbs and rural areas.

Instead of a measure providing for 100,000 teachers to be hired over seven years as President Clinton originally wanted, Congress approved a one-year $1.2 billion appropriation to hire 30,000 teachers for one year. Mr. Clinton trumpeted the money as a way to cut pupil-teacher ratios in Grades 1 to 3.

Because the money is not supposed to be used to increase pay, one question is whether it will help cities solve their teaching shortages, the result mostly of low pay and tough working conditions.

The problem isn't a national lack of teachers, most education officials agree, but getting them to work in elementary schools and other places where more teachers are needed - and to teach specialties such as upper-grade foreign languages and the sciences.

In addition, many cash-poor city districts will need to think carefully about whether to use the money to hire new teachers when there's no guarantee Congress will approve another round of money next year.

"It's never going to be a clean formula" of how to distribute the money, says Anne Bryant, director of the National School Boards Association. "It's going to be the district making the best decision that it can to raise student achievement."

Many say the money will find ready use without forcing schools to make risky hiring decisions. That's true in part because the bill specifies that some money can be used to improve the skills of current teachers or to hire much-needed special-education teachers.

The money targets the poorest school systems, with funds based 80 percent on school poverty and 20 percent on enrollment. About $60 million will go to New York City, $48 million to Los Angeles County, and $28 million to Chicago's Cook County. By contrast, Fairfax County, Va., the nation's 12th-largest school district, would get about $21,000.

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