Education Dominates N.C.S.L. Plans
San Antonio--The need to improve education to foster economic growth emerged as a major concern of state lawmakers who attended the annual meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) here this month.
"Education is the keystone to economic prosperity," Gov. Mark White of Texas said at the opening plenary session. If the states do not improve education, Governor White said, "We are condemned to economic mediocrity at best."
Two sessions on "education and excellence" drew overflow crowds from among the more than 3,000 lawmakers and staff members in attendance.
They heard summaries of various national reports on education, learned how states such as California and Florida were moving to improve their schools, and were told that the cost of educational reform would have to be born primarily by the state governments.
"The reports were written in a fiscal vacuum," said Susan Fuhrman of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University. "No one has said how much it will cost to implement the recommendations, or where the money should come from," she said.
But the federal government has indicated it will not "foot the bill," she added, and localities apparently can't afford to do so. That leaves it up to the states, she concluded.
State Senator Gary Hart of California, chairman of the state Senate's education committee and an author of the recent $800-million omnibus school-reform measure, reviewed the compromises and tradeoffs that made it possible for the bill to gain overwhelming bipartisan legislative support and ultimately the reluctant approval of Gov. George Deukmejian.
In separate appearances, leaders of the nation's two largest teachers' unions conceded that American schools are plagued by incompetent teaching. Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, said incompetent teachers make it more difficult for other teachers to function effectively. And Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, charged that except for a few dedicated individuals, public education is attracting "illiterate, incompetent people who can't make it in any other field." Both warned the lawmakers that better teaching requires higher pay and improved incentives.
NCSL delegates unanimously approved the resolution calling upon the federal government to recognize the paramount role of the states in shaping educational policies and urging it to make its education laws and regulations conform rather than conflict with state constitutional and legal provisions.