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Cavazos Creates Outreach Office To Promote Choice

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Washington--Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos last week reaffirmed school choice as the cornerstone of the Bush Administration's education policy by announcing the creation of a choice "outreach office'' within the Education Department.

Choice "empowers those who know what is best for children--their parents," and is the best way to achieve the nation's education goals, Mr. Cavazos said in announcing the new office.

The Center for Choice in Education, which will be an information clearinghouse on the issue, is the latest in a series of measures the department has taken to bolster its advocacy of a greater parental role in selecting their children's schools.

Mr. Cavazos also released a report on five regional meetings he held last year on the issue. The report outlines numerous choice options and describes how they are working in selected states.

"I am convinced that the radical restructuring of our education system through school choice and school-based management is the best way to reach our national education goals by the turn of the century," Mr. Cavazos said.

"Choice gives parents, especially low-income parents, a voice in the education of their children," he argued. "Through choice we can restore the role of the family in education and increase parental involvement."

The Secretary's remarks came as Administration officials and leaders of the Republican Party have been publicly debating an approach to domestic policy known as the "new paradigm," which calls for the revamping of social programs by involving those who benefit from them.

Public-school choice has been touted by some as typical of the new wave in conservative thinking on domestic programs. The concept "obviously fits into the new paradigm," Mr. Cavazos said. "Clearly it's an empowerment issue."

He also noted, however, that choice has been at the forefront of White House education policy since a January 1989 workshop that featured President-elect Bush, outgoing President Reagan, and Mr. Cavazos.

Mr. Cavazos said the department is considering asking the Congress for legislative permission to allow Chapter 2 block grants to be used for choice programs. When asked if the Administration would back funding private-school choice programs similar to the one implemented this fall in Milwaukee, however, he said such state and school-district initiatives will probably have to be developed without federal money.

The Secretary cited the Milwaukee program, in which low-income families have the opportunity to send their children to private schools at state expense, as a fine example of the flexibility and opportunity choice offers to disadvantaged and minority students.

While noting that states and school districts will have to implement choice plans according to local conditions, Mr. Cavazos said they all should include site-based management that involves teachers and administrators in decisionmaking.

The decision on whether choice programs should include private or religious schools should be left up to the jurisdictions developing them, he said.

Mr. Cavazos acknowledged that choice could weaken a school if a large proportion of its students decided to transfer elsewhere. But he said the department would work with states and districts on developing choice programs that would ensure that students who remained in their assigned schools would receive a good education.

The Center for Choice in Educa8tion, which will be housed within the Office of Intergovernmental and Interagency Affairs, will provide information on choice, school-based management, "and other empowerment initiatives."

Its functions will be to:

Establish a Choice Hotline, a toll-free number that will provide information and literature on school choice and the five regional meetings. The number is 1-800-442-pick, or 1-800-442-7425.

Create a resource bank of experts on choice who will be available as consultants and expert witnesses to educators and policymakers.

Sponsor a symposium with the department's Office for Civil Rights on "Educational Choice: Civil Rights Problem or Civil Rights Solution?"

Consult with urban educators to discuss how choice can be used to tackle their schools' problems.

Sponsor workshops and seminars for adminstrators, school boards, teachers, parents, and policymakers showing how choice programs work.

The center will be directed by Michelle Easton, the oiia deputy undersecretary. She will be assisted by five other officials, including John D. Klenk, the department's top expert on choice.

The center will incur only minimal costs, according to a department spokesman, who added that those working with the center have not relinquished their other responsibilities within the department.

The report on the regional meetings, "Choosing Better Schools: The Five Regional Meetings on Choice in Education," also summarizes what has happened to choice initiatives around the country since the 1989 meetings concluded and the methods of choice that have been developed so far.

Wisconsin, Washington, Vermont, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, and Kentucky have introduced choice programs since last fall's meetings, it notes, while Minnesota, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and Ohio had enacted such programs prior to the meetings.

The report identified eight types of choice--magnet schools, intradistrict choice, interdistrict choice, postsecondary courses for high-school students, dropout-prevention centers, tuition-tax credits and vouchers for private schools, and home schooling.

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