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Cuomo Sets 'Decade of the Child' as Goal

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Under the watchful eyes of political observers who remain unconvinced that he will not enter the Presidential race this year, Gov. Mario M. Cuomo of New York last week delivered a State of the State address that called on lawmakers "to make the next 10 years the Decade of the Child."

"Now a staggering number of our children are undereducated, underfed, and overly tempted by drugs, alcohol, and sex," he said, in a speech that often strayed from the 100-page prepared text.

"The problem of our children," he said, "demands a bold and broad commitment of government at all levels, in partnership with the whole community."

In addition to proposing that the state increase its efforts in health and welfare programs that have a direct impact on disadvantaged children, the Governor asked the legislature to make "a very strong commitment to education."

Mr. Cuomo proposed few specific new education-related programs, but instead listed five-year goals, such as halving the state's dropout rate and making pre-kindergarten programs available to all 4-year-olds.

The major new program he advocated was targeted both at reducing the dropout rate and increasing the college-attendance rates of students from low-income families. He proposed creating "liberty" scholarships, which would become available to every 7th grader in the state whose family income falls to a level 130 percent below the poverty line.

The scholarship, he said, "would say to that 7th grader that we, the state, will guarantee that if you finish high school, if you persist ... the state will supply whatever financial help you need to complete a college education in this state."

The gap between currently available state and federal aid and the cost of attending a state university is $2,005, according to state officials.

Mr. Cuomo also renewed his call, first made last year, for the inclusion of a poverty factor in the allocation of state aid for remedial programs.

Such a factor, he said, would allow school districts "that demonstrate solid performance ... to continue in their own way," while districts with schools performing at the lowest levels on the state's Comprehensive As8sessment Reports would be "held strictly accountable to the [State Board of] Regents for improving the achievement of these students."

The Governor's comments seemed to stop short of endorsing the Regents' proposal for a new program called Public Accountability for Comprehensive Education, which would consolidate many existing aid and grant funds, including special and compensatory education and the Limited English Proficiency program.

Under the Regents' proposal, pace would be funded at $627 million. Districts would be grouped into three categories: those meeting acceptable standards; those with limited identifiable needs; and those with substantial identifiable needs. A greater degree of freedom would be allowed districts in the highest category, while those in the lowest would have to seek approval from the state department of education for all pace expenditures.

Both the Governor's and the Regents' proposals are aimed at removing the "disincentives" to success contained in current aid formulas that reduce funding for districts that have solved the problems targeted by special aid programs.

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