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E.D. Seeks $125 Million For 18 Research Centers

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Washington--The Education Department plans to devote $125.3 million over five years to the 18 research centers that will receive funding under contracts to be awarded this year.

Funding is to rise from $17.1 million the first year to $30.1 million in the final year of the contracts, which are all to be for five years, according to the notice published in the March 8 Federal Register.

The potential flaw in this expansive plan is noted briefly in the announcement, which mentions that "the actual level of funding available for centers is contingent upon final Congressional action."

The department requested $14.6 million to fund the centers in its fiscal 1991 budget, and has $1 million in its 1990 budget available for a center on teacher performance evaluation and accountability.

The Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services have agreed to contribute a total of $1 million to five of the centers, according to sources in the Education Department's office of educational research and improvement. (See Education Week, March 7, 1990.)

But that would still leave the agency $500,000 short, and Milton Goldberg, director of the office of research in the oeri, said department officials have added $4 million to their budget request.

The notice also states that some proposed center funding levels include money to be taken from $20 million the department requested to follow up on the goals-setting process that led to the adoption of national education benchmarks by the National Governors' Association in cooperation with President Bush.

Jerry Sroufe, director of government and professional liaison for the American Educational Research Association, characterized the funding proposal as a "high-risk strategy," noting that the department4must also find money for several existing centers whose contracts have not expired.

"They're having a competition for centers for which they don't yet have the money," he said.

Funding Levels Vary

As expected, funding for the individual centers varies greatly, ranging from $700,000 to $1.9 million in the first year.

Christopher T. Cross, assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, has said the variation reflects the "relative importance" of the centers' missions.

Mr. Sroufe said a major concern of many researchers is that funding for the centers be adequate to allow them to do worthwhile work.

As a rule, he said, funding for a full-fledged center should be no less than $1 million per year.

Of the 18 centers included on the list, 10 would receive less than $1 million in funding in the first year of the program under the department's proposal.

However, Mr. Sroufe said, "it's a proposal for a research-center budget which is reaching to accomplish something."

The largest funding levels are earmarked for a center on assessment, evaluation, and testing, which the department proposes to fund at $1.9 million; a center on adult literacy, which is to receive half its $1.2-million budget from other agencies; and a center on student learning, to receive $1.1 million.

Four centers are to receive the smallest amounts allocated, $700,000 each.

They are the centers on writing and literacy, mathematics teaching and learning, education finance and productivity, and literature.

The finance and literature centers are two of six that were not included in the Education Department's original proposal for the competition, which was published in Septem8ber 1989. The other new proposals are those on the organization and restructuring of schools, dissemination, teacher performance evaluation, and cultural diversity and second-language learning.

The notice published last week is a skeleton announcement that does not contain detailed descriptions of the missions intended for the newly proposed centers.

Details Forthcoming

Mr. Goldberg of the research office said details would be included in documents being prepared for prospective applicants, which are to be ready this week.

However, the Register notice points out, because the mission statements were not published formally, they represent "activities the Secretary is particularly interested in supporting," but "do not contain binding rules for the centers competition."

Half of the centers would be funded by outright grants, over which the department has little authority once the contracts are signed. But the balance would be established through "cooperative agreements" with the department and other agencies that allow the agencies greater input into the direction of research.

Although there are benefits to such arrangements because they allow for flexibility as new issues arise, Mr. Sroufe said researchers are concerned that, under cooperative arrangements, the department would be free to preempt promising research to meet its own agenda.

But Mr. Goldberg said that such agreements do not imply greater federal control of the process, only an assurance of accountability from the participating institutions.

Centers targeted for direct grants include those on writing and literacy; student learning; postsecondary learning and teaching; teacher performance; education quality and the workforce; organization and restructuring; mathematics teaching; science teaching; and literature.

Applications are due June 15, and department officials expect to make awards late this year.

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