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Iowa Panel Suggests Takeover for Failing Districts

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Iowa has joined the ranks of states considering mandatory consolidation or state takeover of school districts that are unable to meet minimum educational standards, including broad curriculum offerings, incentives for teachers, and school-business partnerships.

That concept is considered the most controversial of 160 recommendations issued last month by the state's Excellence in Education Task Force after a 14-month study of Iowa schools.

In its report, "First of the Nation in Education," the panel has also recommended the creation of a foundation for educational research and development, to be supported by $20 million in state aid and $10 million from the private sector, and the establishment of a bipartisan committee of management and labor experts to devise a better collective-bargaining process in the state, according to Susan Lerdal, a member of the task force's staff.

All told, the panel's proposals would increase state support for education by $400 million per year--or 30-to-35 percent above current education expenditures--according to the task force's report. The state's 1983-84 appropriation for elementary and secondary education was $1.4 billion, Ms. Lerdal said.

Governor's Response

Gov. Terry Branstad is considering the task force's recommenda3tions as he prepares to present his budget to the state legislature in January.

"He prefers incentives to mandates," said Max Miller, the Governor's education liaison. "But he will review all the recommendations."

Governor Branstad said in a press conference last month that he preferred giving districts incentives to share educational programs and resources. For that reason, observers speculate that the Governor will not endorse the report's minimum-standards sanction.

Asked whether the Governor plans to recommend that the legislature approve the $400-million increase in the education budget, Mr. Miller said Governor Branstad is aware that the report's recommendations are not necessarily intended to be enacted all at once. "He's ruled nothing out and we will be considering the report very carefully," he said.

Arkansas Precedent

The Iowa minimum-standards proposal--under which districts would have until 1990 to comply with requirements--is similar to a sanction recommended by Arkansas's Education Standards Committee and approved by its legislature last year as part of the Quality of Education Act of 1983. Districts that do not comply by June 1, 1987, with school-improvement initiatives signed into law by Gov. Bill Clinton must show progress within two years or lose their accreditation,6which could lead to annexation or consolidation with other districts, according to Don Ernst, staff liaison for education in Governor Clinton's office.

Proof of Compliance

In order to show compliance with school-improvement measures, Mr. Ernst explained, districts must achieve 85-percent mastery on state-mandated competency tests that are taken by students in 3rd, 6th, and 8th grades.

"This is an attempt to put some accountability on school districts,'' Mr. Ernst said. "I don't think the goal is to consolidate or annex; it is to ensure that districts are responding to an obvious problem.''

Formed by Legislature

Iowa's Excellence in Education Task Force was established by the legislature in 1983 and is headed by Thomas Urban, chairman and president of Pioneer Hybrid International Inc. The panel includes six Iowa citizens and four legislators who are ex-officio members.

The task force formed six subcommittees to deal with curriculum, teaching quality, education and industry coordination, higher education, responsibility and discipline, and organization, Ms. Lerdal said.

The panel's recommendations will be presented to the legislature in January, according to Ms. Lerdal. Among them is a proposal to continue the task force's operation for another two years so that members can monitor the progress of the report's recommendations.

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