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'Unpredictable' Forces Seen Shaping Education in the 1980's

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Portland, Ore--The outlook for education offers even more change and greater unpredictability than did the recent past, the head of the Education Commission of the States (ECS) told members at the organization's 16th annual meeting here last week.

Federal and state spending cutbacks threaten the financial health of many states, according to a special report to the commissioners by Robert C. Andringa, executive director of the interstate group.

"In 1982," Mr. Andringa told the commissioners, "the unpredictability of the factors affecting education emerged as a primary concern for state policymakers. Revenues actually collected by states frequently fell below predicted levels."

Second to the economy on the agendas of state policymakers, he said, is educational quality. He cited a number of school-improvement programs developed in the past seven years.

"These initiatives," he added, "represent an unprecedented resurgence of state effort to improve education quality."

'Tightening of the Links'

"What is needed and what is slowly but surely emerging in many states," Mr. Andringa said, "is a tightening of the links between education collaborators at all levels. ... Decades of growth in education have driven collaborators further and further from one another, but hard financial times and new goals are driving them back together."

Mr. Andringa's written report, in part a compilation and synthesis of earlier studies by the ECS staff and other researchers, points to the following related trends:

Increasing fiscal disparities between resource-rich Western states and those more susceptible to the current industrial slump. Twenty-nine states, the report pointed out, anticipate ending fiscal 1982 with deficits or balances of less than 1 percent.

Increasing reliance, since 1980, on local sources of revenue for schools, and a corresponding tapering-off of growth in state support. When ECS first released these findings last spring, the authors of the report termed the change a "startling reversal" after a decade of steady growth in state support of public schools. (See Education Week, June 9, 1982.)

An unpredictable rate of inflation, which helped spur enormous growth in property- and income-tax collections in the 1970's.

"The assumption that it would continue going up has been the basis on which revenues have been collected and funds allocated," Mr. Andringa said. "However, if rates of inflation remain as low as they have been so far in 1982, readjustment will be essential," he said.

The result, he added, may be a less pressing need for automatic cost-of-living adjustments and increased operating funds.

Concentration of special-interest lobbying in the state capitals, where most budgetary and policy decisions are predicted to be made in the future.

Demographic changes with fiscal implications, including a "baby boomlet" among women in their 30's and early 40's, and regional migration and growth.

In the report and in an address to the commissioners, Joel D. Sherman, deputy director of the Education Department's school-finance project, predicted that some states will soon experience substantial increases in enrollment. The major increases, he noted, are and will continue to be in suburban areas and rural areas in some states. (See Education Week, April 14, 1982.)

Schools Must Fight Back

Michael Annison, vice president of the Naisbitt Group, a social-research firm, told the commissioners: "Anything in education that can be profitable will be taken away from public education by private firms-- unless the schools fight back."

Schools, in order to survive, must set up services that the public is willing to pay for, he said. Possible opportunities, he said, can be found in training employees for businesses. He also suggested that schools set up--and charge tuition for--such things as camps for soccer, computer training, fitness, and health.

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