E.C.S. Group To Spend $725,000 To SPur Action on Its Proposals
Wilmington, Del--A task force of political and business leaders at the state and national levels agreed here last week on a plan for pressing state governments to enact major education reforms before the national Presidential conventions next summer.
The National Task Force on Education for Economic Growth, created last year by the Education Commission of the States, will spend $725,000 in the next year to promote nine reform proposals it made in a major report released last May. Members of the task force will personally lobby state officials and conduct a media campaign for education reform in states where action has been slow.
The task-force members met as part of the midyear meeting of the ecs Steering Committee.
They agreed unanimously to create subcommittees to foster cooperation among education, labor, business, and other organizations in the states; to evaluate by next June the progress of the 50 states in meeting its nine recommendations; to identify successful models for school improvement; and to develop research projects and work-shops to help state officials enact reforms.
Members of the task force said they were concerned that many state governments would not act to reform public education because of both a lag in public interest and the approaching Presidential and state political campaigns. One leading member of the panel said the federal government should increase its role significantly if major reforms are not passed in many states by next June.
"The timing is crucial," said Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina, the former chairman of the task force. "The next year must be a big year for education in the states, and [they] are going to pass their budgets in May or June. If we fail at the state and local levels, I think the federal government is going to have to pick it up."
Governor Hunt said that "seven or eight states have done very well with two or three" of the task force's proposals. "I'm concerned that a number of states will do very little, if anything, and some of the other states will just go through exercises," he added.
Gov. Pierre S. DuPont 4th of Delaware, the chairman of the task force, added: "We don't need another thick document. We don't need to re-invent the wheel. We do need to work with those state task forces." Governor DuPont pointed to the dramatic increase in the creation of statewide commissions during the the past year.
Among the reforms proposed by the task force are "state action plans" for improving education and school-business partnerships; an overhaul of the teaching profession; the lengthening of the school day and year; and stiffer discipline, academic, and attendance requirements (see Education Week, May 11, 1983).
The most contentious debate of the conference concerned how strongly the task force should press states to enact its reform proposals and whether those states that are slow to act should be publicly criticized. "The task force should be very vigorous in monitoring the states," Governor Hunt said. Referring to the states that do not move quickly, he said: "We need to know it, they need to know it, and the nation needs to know it. I realize there are some risks, but you have to be willing to take risks."
Frank Cary, chairman of the board of the International Business Machines Corporation, warned that the task force "could put [itself] in the position of a self-elected bureaucracy pushing people around ... [and becoming] a national nag" by publicly criticizing the performance of specific state governments.
Many members of the task force said voters would be willing to sup-port increased taxes if those taxes are tied to fundamental education reform. But they also said the states should avoid imposing "bad" taxes and might have to mount expensive campaigns to gain support.
Gov. Charles S. Robb of Virginia noted that Gov. Richard Celeste of Ohio and his supporters spent $2 million to defeat an anti-tax initiative last month. Governor Robb said the tax increase probably would have been repealed if the tax-increase supporters had not conducted a major television advertising campaign.
Mr. Cary of ibm said educators would be ill-advised to pass tax measures that businessmen would not support. He said a "unitary" tax passed this year by the Florida legislature had diminished business support of education in that state. A unitary levy taxes the profit that multi-national corporations make in all of their operations.
Governor Hunt said the Reagan Administration has failed to use the U.S. Education Department to promote the school reforms sought by the task force and other organizations. Contrasting the task force's budget with that of the Education Department, Governor Hunt said: "They could do so much. They have almost unlimited resources."
The task force was criticized by some of its members for excluding union and small-business leaders. Lisa Williamson of the Communications Workers of America noted that neither major education union was represented and that she was the only union official at the meeting.