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E.D. Reportedly Seeking More Money for Centers

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Washington--In response to demands that Education Department research centers focusing on organizational issues at different levels of schooling be retained, the department is seeking ways to expand the amount of money available to finance its centers, sources in the office of educational research and improvement said last week.

In its proposal earlier this fall to award grants for 12 research centers, the department included no "mission" description similar to those of two popular current centers--one that studies issues related to the organization of elementary and middle schools and one dealing with secondary schools. (See Education Week, Sept. 20, 1989.)

Retention of those centers was overwhelmingly supported in letters to the agency and in testimony at a Congressional hearing last month. Department officials are to appear this week at a second hearing on the proposal.

One agency source said o.e.r.i. officials hope to "expand the pie" of available funding by seeking cooperative agreements with other agencies and other divisions of the Education Department for the support of some centers.

In addition to seeking arrangements that would allow funding for the school-organization centers, the department is seriously weighing demands that it finance a center on language-minority issues, the source said, adding that the oeri might seek some bilingual-education money for that effort.

"We can't ignore the volume" of negative comments on the research-center proposal from members of the Congress and the public, a second source said. The source noted that good relations with Capitol Hill are especially important if the agency is to receive sufficient appropriations to support the centers.

Two influential lawmakers supported the school-organization centers and a language-minority center in their comments on the department's plan, and demanded that all centers address the need "to better educate the increasing percentage of our nation's students who leave school with inadequate skills to prepare them for work in the 21st century."

In a joint letter, two Democratic Representatives--Augustus F. Hawkins of California, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and Major R. Owens of New York, chairman of its Subcommittee on Select Education--also said the o.e.r.i. plan places an "unacceptable" emphasis on parental choice.

Offering parents a choice in selecting their children's schools "is a decision that is firmly within the realm of state and local governance," they wrote. "Research on choice is only relevant as a subject of federally sponsored research and development insofar as there is a need to monitor its implementation."

The lawmakers said they feared that such research would be slanted toward a "right-wing point of view," and that researchers would be "too intimidated" to report results that "are not found to be consistent with the ideological hysteria" of the Bush Administration on the issue.

The Administration has made support for choice a cornerstone of its education program, while Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Owens have been among the strongest critics of the idea, arguing that it will help only elite students and schools.

Parental choice is mentioned in mission descriptions of three proposed centers. Centers on family, community, and young children's learning and on education in the inner cities are to focus partly on "home, family, cultural, and community influences on education, including parental choice and involvement in schooling."

Choice is also listed as one of several "policy approaches" that could be studied by the center on education policy, along with raising student and teacher standards and site-based management of schools.

In their final comment, Mr. Hawkins and Mr. Owens called the proposed omission of a center on postsecondary governance and finance "a clear circumvention of Congressional intent." They called for research on financial aid and minorities in higher education.

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