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Kentuckians Begin To Mobilize Support for New Reform Plans

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Frankfort, Ky--More than a year before Kentucky's General Assembly meets again, two citizens' groups have already begun to mobilize grassroots support for new education-reform plans in the state.

The Governor's Council on Educational Reform is working on an agenda of items that Gov. Martha Layne Collins can take to the legislature in January 1986.

And the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a nonprofit citizens' group, has raised more than $200,000 in private contributions to finance its school-improvement campaign and is sponsoring a series of town forums to gauge citizen support. The Prichard group is headed by Edward F. Prichard Jr., a Lexington lawyer who has long been involved as a citizen in efforts to improve higher education in Kentucky.

Both efforts underscore reform proponents' acknowledgment that local support is essential to ensure the legislature's approval of, and financial support for, education reforms in Kentucky.

Failed Tax Proposal

Earlier this year, Governor Collins failed to win legislative approval of her ambitious, $324-million tax package, which included $226 million for school improvements. While the legislature did pass measures making kindergarten mandatory statewide, instituting a basic-skills requirement for students, and requiring competency tests for teachers, it deferred such items as a career-ladder plan and accompanying pay raises for teachers, an expansion of remedial-education programs, and a variety of school-finance issues. (See Education Week, April 11, 1984.)

This year, the state provided $1.03 billion for the schools. During the first year of the next biennium, that figure will rise to $1.04 billion, and during the second year, schools will receive $1.11 billion.

In an attempt to prevent a replay of the 1984 General Assembly's actions, the Governor's Council on Educational Reform is working to determine which items Governor Collins will recommend to the legislature in 1986. The panel is expected to complete its work by mid-December, according to officials in the Governor's office.

And the Governor, who was once a schoolteacher, has said she plans to travel through the state in the coming year to campaign for school improvements.

"I will go into every county and talk to parents, teachers, and administrators and try to involve everybody," she said to state newspaper editors in Lexington late last month. "A school-improvement campaign by me alone will not be enough. But with the help of several groups, I believe we can do the groundwork."

Gathering Support

One of the groups that may aid Governor Collins's school-improvement efforts is the Prichard Committee. That group, which is headed by Mr. Prichard, has been working on school reform for a year and expects to produce recommendations by the end of the year.

Mr. Prichard and numerous other observers of the state's education scene say they think it was the absence of grassroots support that led to the failure of the Governor's reform package.

To gather that support, the Prichard panel, with the aid of some 2,000 volunteers, is sponsoring a series of town forums on Nov. 15 in most of the state's 120 counties to hear what changes Kentuckians want for their schools. The forums will open with brief messages on the state's educational television network by Mr. Prichard, Governor Collins, and Alice McDonald, state superintendent of public instruction.

"We want to stimulate discussion locally so that groups that are trying to make recommendations for changes in [education] policies will have the benefit of what people feel at the grassroots level," Mr. Prichard said.

And while it is not part of the panel's stated mission, Mr. Prichard and others also hope that participants in the town forums will eventually become part of the statewide lobbying force that works for reform measures and lobbies for the money to pay for them.

Lasting Impact Foreseen

But officials of the Prichard committee think the forums are likely to have an even greater and more lasting impact on Kentucky education.

"In many counties, citizens are saying that this is the first time they've taken the opportunity to talk to local administrators about their local schools," said Robert Sexton, executive director of the Prichard committee. "They're forming local groups and telling administrators that they want to support them for school improvements."

In many school districts, Mr. Sexton added, citizens have also toldcommittee members that their views have never before been sought by school leaders. "That's another major change that's coming out of the planning for the upcoming town forums," he said.

In preparation for the forums, the state's press and broadcasting associations are providing free advertising space and air time to publicize the meetings. And Ashland Oil Inc. is paying for additional advertising--including 500,000 fliers that will be distributed at service-station food markets--to encourage citizen attendance.

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