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Bush Floats Plan To Free Schools From Regulation

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Union, NJ--Calling for the "partial deregulation of education," President Bush last week said he would like to grant certain school districts relief from restrictions on the use of federal and state aid if they agreed to be held accountable for their results.

"We want to waive some regulations for poorer communities, allowing them to pool state and federal funds in exchange for higher accountability and performance," Mr. Bush said in a speech here.

"We'll give you the flexibility; you show us the results," he said. "And I bet they'll be outstanding."

Mr. Bush's remarks represented an endorsement of a plan unveiled last month by the National Center on Education and the Economy, a policy-analysis group based in Rochester, N.Y. (See Education Week, March 8, 1989.)

The President spoke at Union High School, the site of a conference focused on 16 school districts that are participating in the "Time for Results" project of the National Governors' Association.

The districts agreed to implement some of the recommendations in the 1986 nga report of the same name in return for some measure of relief from state and federal regulation.

Superintendents and teachers from every district in New Jersey were invited to the conference, which featured progress reports from superintendents of 15 of the 16 participating districts.

The educators also heard addresses by Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos and Gov. Thomas H. Kean of New Jersey.

"This reform project, I believe, will have profound implications for the nation's schools," Mr. Cavazos said.

"We must restructure our entire education program and we must do it soon," he said. "I predict that in a few more years you will not recognize the [American] education system."

Successes Cited

The superintendents involved in the nga project described the reforms they had implemented, such as early-intervention programs, parent-education efforts, school-based day care, year-round scheduling, and measures giving more authority to teachers.

They also boasted of improvements in student performance, evidenced by rising test scores and decreasing dropout rates.

Discussion of the project's successes provided a backdrop for Mr. Bush's call for "removing some of the over-regulation of education."

The Administration's proposal for $25 million in federal funding to help states develop alternative-certification routes for teachers and administrators would serve that end, the President said, as would the more novel proposal to remove restrictions on the use of federal and state education aid.

Echoes Recent Report

Nelson Smith, director of programs for the improvement of practice in the Education Department's research branch, last week credited Marc S. Tucker, president of the center on education and the economy, with the idea embraced by Mr. Bush.

A report issued by the private, nonprofit center urged Mr. Bush and the Congress to free selected districts with high concentrations of disadvantaged students from rules governing federal education aid. In exchange for the freedom to experiment with new approaches to education, the report said, districts would agree to set and meet performance standards for poor and minority youngsters that exceeded current expectations.

Under the center's plan, those dis4tricts could combine and use as they saw fit government aid channeled through such programs as Chapter 1 remedial education, special education, magnet-schools assistance, and related state and federal initiatives.

"I'm obviously pleased" that the President has declared his support for the center's proposal, Mr. Tucker said, adding that he and his colleagues had recently met with Administration officials.

Legislation Needed

Implementing such a plan would require federal legislation, said Charles E.M. Kolb, the Education Department's deputy undersecretary for planning, budget, and evaluation, "because you would be waiv8ing or relaxing existing rules and regulations."

The department "will be working with the White House to craft such an approach," he said, "but I can't give you a date as to when we will have specific language."

Stephen Hart, a deputy White House press secretary, said that "some of the changes can be accomplished through the Education Department" but that "other parts will have to be worked out in other legislation." Details of the initiatives have not yet been developed, he indicated.

Mr. Tucker has suggested that the secretary of education be authorized to waive statutory requirements in certain cases. But the Congress may look more favorably on a specific, one-time waiver.

'More Important Than Money'

Several of the superintendents participating in the conference here echoed Mr. Bush's call for reduced regulation of public schools.

"Too many resources are being wasted on ... legislative mandates," said Harry Galinsky, superintendent of the Paramus, N.J., district, which is taking part in the "Time for Results" project.

Allow districts more flexibility "and you will see dramatic results," he said. "Many of us think this issue is more important than money."

In addition to backing deregulation, Mr. Bush made a pitch for the package of education initiatives he released this month. He also reiterated his support for parental choice in schooling and for a renewed emphasis on volunteerism.

"One need matches another, and a wonderful thing happens," Mr. Bush said, explaining that helping others also enriches the volunteer.

"That's one reason we need to rely less on the collective wallet, and more on the collective will," he said.

Mr. Bush also praised Mr. Cavazos for "doing an outstanding job," and borrowed some of the Secretary's themes.

Mr Cavazos' influence could be seen in the President's call for "a shared determination on the part of every American to get involved with our schools" and his affirmation that "there is no such thing as an expendable student."

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