Veterans advocates are scrambling for ways to revive the military’s 28-year-old Troops to Teachers initiative after Defense Department officials officially closed down the transition assistance program earlier this month.
The program, originally administered through the Department of Education, was designed to help veterans interested in education jobs by providing up to $10,000 of financial support and coordination with state officials on placement in schools in need of teachers. About 23,000 individuals have taken part in the program since 1993. The program costs about $15 million per year.
But earlier this month, Defense Department officials announced they were ending the program completely and shifting resources to “higher priority programs more closely aligned to the National Defense Strategy.”
Some current participants may still receive partial support through their individual states until May 2022, but defense officials will no longer be involved.
Pentagon leaders had signaled the closure as early as last fall, and had threatened to dissolve the program several times in past years. But until now, lawmakers had kept the program alive and continued to fund the operation, despite Pentagon objections.
Now veterans groups are asking Congress to intervene again.
In a recent letter to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, officials from the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Student Veterans of America, Disabled American Veterans and Veterans Education Success urged lawmakers to reverse the Defense Department’s decision.
“Studies have shown that Troops to Teachers educators fill thousands of vacancies in high-needs schools and subject areas; are more likely to not relocate after they are employed as teachers; are considered effective instructors; have high job and life satisfaction; and even have a positive effect on increasing student likelihood to serve,” the groups wrote.
“Allowing the Troops for Teachers program to sunset would go against America’s critical need to support our children’s education.”
The program costs about $15 million annually. Senate lawmakers have already included the money and a mandate for four more years of the program in their draft of the annual defense authorization bill, but the House passed its version of the policy measure last month without any language on the program.
The two chambers will have to sort out a compromise in upcoming negotiations on the policy bill.
Meanwhile, the Troops to Teachers program will take in no new applicants this year, and will have to be fully rebuilt if it is reauthorized by Congress.
“There is a reason that Troops to Teachers has thus far stood the test of time: It is a signal to our service members that they can continue to serve in their local communities after hanging up the uniform, and that’s a message that we need to sustain,” said John Kamin, legislative associate for the American Legion.
“The Department of Defense might not think this is a policy priority, but it is certainly one for The American Legion.”
The Senate provision on the program also requires defense officials to submit a report on the effectiveness of the program, to help determine whether it should continue past spring 2025. Negotiations with House lawmakers on the final defense authorization bill language are expected to start next month.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.