ANCHORAGE -- More than 130 people have made inquiries about the Alaska version of Troops to Teachers, a program aimed at turning soldiers into qualified educators.
In August, the program opened its first Alaska branch on Elmendorf Air Force Base. More than 100 people have dropped by the office to apply or to learn about the program. An additional 30 have contacted National Guard officials.
Congress approved Troops to Teachers in 1993 after military downsizing forced thousands to leave active duty. The U.S. Defense Department started the program the next year with a twofold mission: to help former military men and women transition into second careers and to curb a nationwide teacher shortage.
It has since produced more than 4,500 teachers in 28 states.
Funding for Troops to Teachers is provided through 2006 by The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
President Bush authorized an increase of $18 million for the program that will go toward financial aid and setting up and operating offices.
Rich Kronberg, president of NEA-Alaska, the state branch of the National Education Associa-tion, said as long as the group produces quality teachers and follows state certification rules, he supports it. The National Education Association agrees, Kronberg said.
''We're not entirely in support of alternative licensure programs, but for me, so long as they have to meet the same standards as everyone else, that's the key thing,'' Kronberg said.
Applicants are required to pass the same college courses and certification tests, but a retired soldier's path to the classroom may unfold more smoothly with aid from Troops to Teachers employees.
''We'll do anything they need,'' said Bill Petrozzi, Alaska's program coordinator. ''We'll make phone calls, we'll edit resumes, we'll help them find where the jobs are open.''
Every year, Alaska school districts hire more than 1,000 teachers. Seventy percent come from Outside.
''You need teachers here, that's the most important part,'' said John Gantz, the program's national director.
''And particularly you need quality, qualified teachers and that's one of the things this program has been able to offer -- more men and minorities, people who are mature.''
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