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Additional Funds Required To Sustain Reform Drives in 3 States, Groups Say

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Groups in three Southern states are urging a major infusion of new funds to maintain the momentum behind their states' school-reform drives.

In South Carolina, a task force appointed by the governor has asked lawmakers to spend $1.8 billion over the next five years to broaden existing preschool and remedial-education programs and to create a new dropout-prevention effort. A second panel of state businessmen and educators has echoed those suggestions and offered others in a separate report.

In North Carolina, meanwhile, a group comprising leaders from education, business, and government has proposed a $719-million, five-year plan that features higher teacher salaries, new funding for early-childhood education, and less state regulation of local schools in return for greater accountability for results.

And in Arkansas, a foundation has warned that "without additional resources, additional reform ... is seriously compromised and public support for reform will likely erode further."

South Carolina Report

In its report, the 44-member task force created by Gov. Carroll A. Campbell Jr. concludes that South Carolina needs to expand reforms established under the 1984 Education Improvement Act "to attack our lingering problems and reach higher levels of student achievement."

If the panel's 46 recommendations are adopted by the legislature, the state would have to find $253 million in new revenue to supplement the $1.55 billion expected to be raised from the 1-cent sales tax approved under the eia

The group suggested that the state could free up $65.4 million for reform by removing school-construction, adult-education, and three other programs from the eia and funding them separately.

The panel's most costly recommendation would expand the state's compensatory-education program to include all low-achieving 7th- and 8th-grade students. That move would cost the state an additional $12 million in fiscal 1989, rising to $24 million in 1993.

The panel also recommended:

Requiring school districts to offer half-day programs for at-risk 4-year-olds and to develop and implement long-term plans to reduce their dropout rates.

Expanding programs for gifted and talented students.

Maintaining teachers' salaries at the average for the Southeast.

Withholding a driver's license from anyone under 18 who is not attending high school or enrolled in a General Educational Development program.

In a related development, the South Carolina Business-Education Committee last month recommended the expansion of early-childhood-development and parenting programs.

The group, which helped develop the eia and monitors its implementation, also called for efforts to improve students' thinking skills and to raise the graduation rate.

North Carolina Blueprint

In North Carolina, the chairman of the Public School Forum, Gerry Hancock, said the 77-member study group's "single most important recommendation is that student success should be the standard by which we measure all of our public-education activities."

The forum is a nonprofit corporation formed in 1986 that includes education officials, business executives, and representatives of education groups, the legislature, and the governor's office.

In its report, the study group proposes that about $292 million of its $719-million reform blueprint be used for a new evaluation system and pay scale for teachers that would increase the average salary by 5.7 percent over three years.

Another $160 million would be used for statewide implementation of a career-ladder program now being pilot-tested in 16 districts. The legislature must decide this year whether to extend, modify, or expand the program, which is now in its fourth and final year.

In an effort to stem the dropout rate, the group also recommended spending some $26 million for pilot "developmental" early-childhood programs for disadvantaged 3- and 4-year-olds.

The rest of the proposed funding increase would pay for new tests and other assessments of student performance; improvements in counseling and vocational education; training for teachers and principals; and experiments with innovative management techniques.

The report also encourages the state to expand a "lead teacher" project under way in three counties, and to integrate the concept into the proposed career-development program.

The reform plan also suggests that the state ease regulations and funding restrictions affecting local districts in exchange for increased accountability for results.

Under the plan, school systems8would submit plans to improve student test scores and attendance and dropout rates that would be tied to a new state accreditation system.

The group also said that "one of the most potentially controversial'' recommendations would make merit-pay awards to teachers contingent on "measurable gains in schoolwide student performance." Under the plan, educators at the upper levels of the career ladder could earn additional pay on the basis of such gains.

Arkansas Efforts Criticized

School reforms have boosted student achievement in Arkansas, but progress has been hampered by a lack of funding, an over-reliance on testing, low teacher morale, and an erosion of public support, a report by the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation concludes.

According to the report, school-accreditation standards adopted in 1984 have helped reduce class sizes, expand the curriculum, and raise achievement levels.

Although the reforms have not worsened the state's dropout rate, it says, they may be increasing the number of students who are not promoted--a development it warns could lead to a "larger dropout story."

The report also documents a decline in support for reforms among parents and teachers since 1986.

"A good share of the decline can be explained by the failure of the legislature to provide additional resources in support of the reform directions," it states.

There are also "uncertainties," it says, surrounding the impact of the state's Minimum Performance Test on poor and minority students and on small, traditionally low-achieving schools.

Teachers have been bypassed in the development of tougher state standards and in their implementation, the report charges. And while teachers "have been enormously successful in preparing students to pass the m.p.t.," it says, many do not regard the test as a measure of "in-depth understanding."

The study notes that Gov. Bill Clinton has proposed an ambitious education agenda for the legislative session that began last week. He has recommended raising teacher pay, offering incentives for school "restructuring," and expanding early-childhood programs for the disadvantaged.

The foundation panel urged state officials to organize a series of forums to explore how teachers and parents can play a greater role in reform efforts. It also suggested that a grant program be created to encourage teachers to try innovative instructional methods.

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