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White House Cites Progress on Altering Education Laws

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Washington--A Bush Administration report on efforts to implement changes in federal education laws and regulations that had been recommended by the nation's governors lists 15 suggestions on which the Administration has taken action.

But most of the actions cited in the interim report apparently occurred before the governors recommended them, and were not spurred by the ongoing efforts by the Administration and the National Governors' Association to set and achieve national education goals.

And the governors are still waiting for a response to more than 150 of the recommendations they submitted to the White House in February, following extensive discussions at last fall's education summit on the need for greater flexibility.

"In no way is this a definitive report," which was distributed at July's meeting of the nga, said Jim Martin, director of state/federal relations at the n.g.a. "I think they got it together as fast as they could to have something to hand out at the meeting in Mobile."

"But I'm glad they did this," he said. "I'm glad they're doing something."

Mr. Martin said the n.g.a. received more than 500 suggestions from 35 governors. While there was some overlap, he said, the governors ended up submitting between 170 and 200 separate recommendations.

Acknowledging that some of the suggestions contradict n.g.a. policy, Mr. Martin stressed that the organization merely passed them on without endorsement.

For instance, "We're not recommending that they put the money on a stump and run," he said, noting that some governors suggested that federal funds be virtually unrestricted.

The report says the Office of Management and Budget distributed the governors' proposals to relevant fed8eral agencies for review, and is now considering the agencies' responses.

"For this interim report, proposals which seemed most ready for adoption by the Administration were returned to the agencies to obtain firm commitments for implementation," the report says.

In two instances, the Administration has promised new action.

The report says new Chapter 1 regulations will be proposed to allow Chapter 1 teachers to work with students not eligible for the compensatory-education program, "as long as Chapter 1 students are in the instructional group and the activity is designed to address the specific educational needs of the participating Chapter 1 children."

The Administration also promised to propose regulations allowing states to use special-education training funds in ways more responsive to their needs once the training program is reauthorized.

But most responses simply restate existing policy.

For example, the report says the "primary approach" to securing greater flexibility is to obtain legislative changes allowing states to receive waivers from certain federal laws in exchange for agreements to improve educational results. It says the Administration is supporting pending legislation that would create a waiver demonstration project.

However, the legislation was introduced in the spring of 1989, and President Bush publicly stated his support for the concept that April, five months before the education summit.

Seven of the 15 responses involve support for changes in vocational-education and job-training programs currently being amended by the Congress. The Administration's proposals for those programs were also released in the spring of 1989.

For example, the report backs eliminating "set-asides" for particular groups under the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act, a major change that is included in legislation awaiting a vote in the House.

In two instances, the Administration's response to governors' regulatory complaints was that the regulations were being misunderstood.

One widely publicized complaint voiced at the summit was that equipment purchased for Chapter 1 classes cannot be used for anything else when those students are not in class. In response, the Education Department included in its Chapter 1 policy manual an explanation of how such equipment can indeed be used for other purposes, as long as its use does not interfere with the Chapter 1 program or shorten the equipment's lifespan.

The report also says state officials are not required to use income-tax returns to verify eligibility of participants in Job Training Partnership Act programs, as one governor apparently mistakenly believed.

Finally, the report includes regulatory changes that were in the works before the governors recommended them, such as:

Establishing a pilot program requiring less burdensome paperwork to determine student eligibility for the school-lunch program. The Congress authorized such a program last year, and regulations implementing it were published in June.

Reducing paperwork requirements for bilingual-education programs. The Education Department published proposed regulations for the program in 1988, and the final regulations published in May state that the provision on paperwork relief came in response to public comment.

Altering performance standards for the jtpa to emphasize basic skills and ensure that long-term goals are not subordinated to projects that are less expensive and produce more immediate results. Such changes were included in both the proposed standards published Jan. 5 and in the final version published in April.

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