UPDATE 1-Obama calls for 'Master Teachers' to help schools
(Adds Republican reaction, paragraphs 8-10)
By Samson Reiny
WASHINGTON, July 18 (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday proposed a $1 billion program to recruit high-performing math and science teachers to mentor and evaluate their peers and help students excel.
The so-called Master Teacher Corps program calls for recruiting 2,500 such educators at the outset and increasing that to 10,000 over four years, paying them $20,000 stipends on top of their base salaries. Each teacher would be required to serve at least four years.
To help launch the program, the Obama administration has pledged to release $100 million already available to school districts that have made plans to develop and retain effective teachers of science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said the plan would raise the prestige of the profession and increase teacher retention.
"This is a chance to look across the entire pipeline, from attracting better talent, to better mentoring that talent, to having folks stay in the profession for a much longer time," Duncan told reporters on Tuesday in remarks embargoed for release until Wednesday.
"We're not just fighting for better education here. We're fighting for our country. If we want to keep good jobs in this country, we know we need a much better educated workforce, and so many of the skills that are in demand right now are in the STEM areas," Duncan said.
The initiative faces a big hurdle in Congress. The funds make up part of Obama's 2013 budget proposal, which faces little hope of becoming law because of opposition from the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
"I'm all for supporting math and science, but I think we need to refocus our attention on the basics," Republican Representative Duncan Hunter said in a written statement.
Hunter, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, said existing educational programs needed to be narrowed down and strengthened.
"It doesn't make much sense to be adding taxpayer dollars where there's already significant overlap and duplication," he said.
Obama, facing a tough re-election bid in November amid a balky economy, has emphasized math and science education as one of the keys to a robust economic recovery. He has said he wants to prepare 100,000 additional science and math teachers over the next decade. (Reporting By Samson Reiny; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Peter Cooney)
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