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Three States Mandate Role For Parents

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Officials in several states, responding to the idea that education decisions must be responsive to community needs and aspirations, are paying close attention to programs in California, Florida, and South Carolina that have placed parents at the center of decision-making in local schools.

A resolution approved by the Education Commission of the States (ecs) during its annual meeting last month urged state and local policymakers to examine these programs and to consider developing similar systems of their own.

Legislation passed in the three states ordered the creation of either school-district or single-school councils composed of parents, teachers, and administrators. The groups commonly are responsible for developing long-range educational improvement plans, assessing student achievement, and evaluating other measures of school effectiveness.

In Florida and South Carolina the school committees act in an advisory capacity only. But in California parents not only direct education policy in their local schools but also are given control over a discretionary school-improvement fund.

According to Dorothy Lucas, program improvement director of the New Haven, Calif., Unified School District, school administrators and school-board members originally feared that parents would gain total control over school policy by means of the councils.

"That, quite obviously, hasn't happened," she said. The program, instituted in 1971 for grades K-3 initially, eventually became so popular that the state legislature extended it in 1977 to cover all grade levels.

Much of the program's popularity is due to its emphasis on allowing schools to assess their needs as they see fit, according to Paul B. Gussman, a program management and review official in the state department of education. "If a council decides improvement is needed in counseling, certain areas of the curriculum, or in preparing seniors to take the state's minimum-proficiency exam, for example, it has the flexibility to move in those directions," he explained.

Additional State Money

The school councils receive yearly grants from the state based on their school's average daily attendance report for the preceding year. Elementary schools are eligible to receive $148 per child, middle schools $90, and secondary schools $60. "All of these funds are above and beyond normal state allocations to local schools," Mr. Gussman said.

The state legislature voted this year to give school councils the option to combine funds from 11 state categorical-grant programs together with their school improvement program budget, according to Mr. Gussman. The option, he said, could possibly be extended to cover federal block-grant funds.

The new provision essentially allows the councils to bypass most restrictions on spending of the categorical aid, Mr. Gussman said. "That's not to say that the intent of this legislation was to allow school councils to take this money and funnel all of it, for example, to teacher salaries," he added. A state review board scrutinizes council decisions annually to see that the needs of students covered by the categorical-aid programs are being met.

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