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Governors Study 'Toughest Issues' Facing Schools

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In an effort to "set the American education agenda for the next five years," the National Governors' Association will develop policy recommendations this year on seven of the "toughest issues'' facing public education, Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee announced here this month.

Governor Alexander, a leader among the nation's "education governors"—those most actively involved in school-reform and education-financing initiatives—was named chairman of the NGA at the group's Aug. 3-5 annual meeting.

The issues to be addressed in the governors' year-long education-policy study, he said, include: the concept of parental choice in schooling; early-childhood education; teacher training and career ladders; the use of new technologies in education; more economical use of school facilities; and school leadership and management. The governors also will make recommendations on improving the quality of college education.

Their policy recommendations on programs to foster parental choice will be featured at the governors' next annual meeting in South Carolina, according to Joe Nathan, an education consultant in St. Paul, Minn., who will work with Governor Alexander as coordinator of the NGA's education initiative. Mr. Nathan, a former school administrator, assisted Gov. Rudy Perpich in developing Minnesota's public-school voucher plan. (See related story on page S16.)

Governor Alexander told his colleagues here that governors need to "spend more time on better schools and jobs" and "less time arguing about war, welfare, Social Security, and debt."

"That is what they do in Washington," he said. "There is plenty to do at home without looking to Washington for extra work."

The Governor said he will use his term as chairman to help governors develop education policy, in order to "do better at what we spend most of our time doing." The NGA education initiative, to be called the Governors' Report on U.S. Education 1991, will play a key role in achieving that goal, he said.

At the Boise meeting, Governor Alexander appointed as chairmen of task forces on each of the seven education issues governors he said had exhibited "a high level of concern" in the area.

For example, Gov. Richard D. Lamm of Colorado, who will chair the task force on parental involvement and choice, has campaigned for a voucher plan in his state that would allow students who have dropped out of school to re-enroll at the public or private school of their choice. The Colorado legislature approved this spring a modified version of the bill for the public-school system only. (See Education Week, June 5, 1985.)

Other chairmen and their areas of concern include: Gov. Richard Riley of South Carolina, early-childhood education; Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey, teacher issues; Gov. John H. Sununu of New Hampshire, technology in education; Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, school leadership and management; Gov. Ted Schwinden of Montana, use of school facilities; and Gov. John Ashcroft of Missouri, college quality.

The task-force chairmen will hold hearings across the country this fall to examine existing policy in the areas under their review. Based on the issues raised during this process, the chairmen will commission in-depth policy analyses with a "focus on development of options for state action," Governor Alexander said.

"Some papers may address issues relevant to only one task force, while others are likely to address issues crosscutting finance, governance, and other questions," he said.

The task-force governors will present their policy analyses and recommendations to the other governors next August. If the recommendations receive NGA approval, Governor Alexander said, they will be "widely disseminated to key decisionmakers at the federal, state, and local levels to encourage rapid implementation of desirable reform."

In addition to the initial task-force reports, the governors' education initiative will include a five-year "action plan" for the states, designed to continue identifying emerging reform issues, to develop such strategies as model legislation on reform implementation, and to provide a "scorecard" each state can use in measuring its progress in educational reform.

The seven issues on the table this year, Governor Alexander said, are those that governors will be facing in their states.

He told his colleagues they would have to be able to answer such questions as these: "Are there better ways to help poor children with weak preparation get ready to learn and succeed in school? Are there better ways to pay teachers more for teaching well? Should there be new paths into the classroom for people who should be teaching?" and "Why not let parents choose the public schools their children attend?"

Governor Alexander has strongly supported the concept of allowing public-school parents that choice. He is working now on a parental-choice proposal to be considered by the Tennessee legislature during its next session.

He expressed hope that the NGA study would give leadership and focus to the education-reform movement nationally. "Because the governors themselves will gather the information, the report will be a powerful part of the national agenda for better schools," he said.

The NGA's Boise meeting included a discussion of the prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect. The governors passed a resolution stating that "state strategies regarding child abuse and neglect must go beyond investigation and treatment, where today's resources are concentrated. Research and evaluation are essential in developing better prevention techniques."

The resolution also calls for states to continue to have "primary responsibility for protecting the safety of all children within their borders."

"Thus," the resolution reads, "the NGA believes the federal government should not mandate any policies regarding licensing of day care or other juvenile facilities, or federal policies requiring that states conduct criminal records checks on employees in child care or juvenile settings."

The resolution suggests that the federal government "facilitate the establishment of a national child-abuse registry and facilitate state criminal-justice authorities' use of FBI records."

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