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Clinton Outlines 1989 School Agenda

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Gov. Bill Clinton has presented Arkansas lawmakers with an expansive school-reform agenda that features higher pay for teachers, incentives for experiments in "restructuring," parental choice in selecting schools, and additional funding for preschool programs.

Although the legislature will not convene its 1989 session until January, the Governor submitted his recommendations this month to give legislators "a long time to go over his proposals," said Michael Gauldin, Mr. Clinton's press secretary.

Mr. Gauldin said the Governor spent the last year developing his agenda with help from several commissions and task forces. He noted that some of the proposals mirror recommendations advanced recently by a group of leading Arkansas businessmen. (See Education Week, Sept. 28, 1987.)

In a report outlining his agenda, Governor Clinton warned that some gains achieved following the adoption of reforms in 1983 have since eroded. "Real economic progress," he said, hinges on a "second wave" of initiatives.

The Governor noted that the state ranked third in the nation in terms of teacher-salary increases after the 1983 reform law was enacted, but has since slipped to the next to last position due to raises in other states, low revenue growth, and the need to hire almost 3,000 new teachers.

To help bring salaries in line with other Southeastern states, Governor Clinton proposed spending $123million during the 1989-91 biennium. That spending would raise the average salary by $4,000, he said.

His plan also calls for the creation of a 14-year pay scale to help remedy salary disparities among districts, and urges the adoption of a "fair system" of performance-based pay.

The Governor also asked lawmakers to endorse a program of one-year planning grants of up to $5,000 to allow districts to develop "comprehensive, schoolwide" restructuring plans.

He said the plans should address ways to redefine the roles of teachers and staff members and to improve the curriculum and instruction. Districts with acceptable plans would receive $30,000 a school year for between three to five years to implement their programs.

The state would initially pay $1.4 million for the effort, a figure that would be reduced over time as local funding increased.

Mr. Clinton also asked lawmakers to consider a parental-choice plan similar to one that set the stage for Minnesota's pioneering statewide program. He said such a plan would "reward and recognize schools offering top-quality programs."

The proposal would allow public schools to accept transfer students from other districts. School systems opting to participate in the program would be allowed to bar their own students from transferring only if such changes would disrupt school-desegregation orders.

The program, the Governor added, should be designed to preclude abuse "for racially motivated reasons."

The program also would allow high-school juniors and seniors to take college courses for high-school or postsecondary credit.

Noting the role that preschool programs can play in breaking the cycle of failure for disadvantaged students, Mr. Clinton also proposed spending $10 million over the next two years to expand participation in the federal Head Start program and the Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters, a state effort funded primarily with federal grants.

He also suggested that the state adopt a model program for identifying 4-year-olds at risk of school failure, and that lawmakers require all 5-year-olds to attend public, private, or home-school kindergarten unless their parents object.

Mr. Clinton also proposed:

The creation of an "Arkansas leadership academy" for teachers and administrators.

Revising the state's school-aid formula to help equalize spending among districts and to cover the cost of growing enrollment.

Extending a program of financial incentives to encourage the consolidation of districts having difficulty fulfilling the 1983 mandates.

Earmarking $15 million to spur local development of innovative compensatory programs.

Establishing an office of accountability within the state education department, which would gather information for a "report card" that would compare local schools.

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