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Officials of a number of major national education organizations are forging a plan to heighten public awareness of the state of U.S. public education and to boost it higher up the list of national priorities.

The proposal is still in the developmental stage and might not pan out, said Richard Rosser, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the effort's organizer.

But those spearheading the drive--the Forum of Educational Organization Leaders and the heads of several higher-education groups--believe that a "broad-based grassroots movement" is essential to persuade Americans that education is "the very best investment" that this country can make, Mr. Rosser said.

If adequate funding appears forthcoming and support from education groups seems solid, the team may formally announce the plan and a new coalition of interested groups later this year, he said.

Mr. Rosser would not divulge specifics of the plan, named "Investment 21" after the next century, but said that it might include advertising campaigns, but not lobbying.

Some 40 to 50 education groups--including the National Association of State Boards of Education, the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Education Association--are involved in the effort, he said.

By 2001 the number of high-school graduates in the United States will reverse its downward trend and increase dramatically, according to a report by the U.S. Education Department.

The report, "Projections of Education Statistics to 2001: An Update," includes national projections of public and private enrollment, graduates, classroom teachers, and public expenditures for education at all levels. It also includes state-level estimates of enrollments and high-school graduates.

In the early 1990's, the report says, the number of high-school graduates will contin6ue to decline as it has since 1977. But by 2001, the number should surpass the 1977 figure of 3.2 million thanks to the increased number of births each year since then.

Total enrollment in elementary and secondary schools during the next decade is expected to continue to increase as it has since 1985. By 1998, the department said, enrollment should reach 50.1 million, near the 1971 peak level of 51.3 million. By 2001, that figure should stand at 49.8 million, the department estimates, up from 46.2 million today.

The department predicts a loss of students for schools in West Virginia and the District of Columbia over the decade, but sizable increases for schools in New Mexico (39 percent), Arizona and New Hampshire (33 percent), Colorado and Florida (24 percent), and Georgia and New Jersey (22 percent).

Copies of the report are available for $9.50 each from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.

Government officials last month announced an official 1990 U.S. Census count of 249,632,692, a 10.1 percent increase over 1980 but almost 4 million short of projections made last fall.

The count confirms suspected shifts in population from the Midwest and Northeast to the Southwest and Southeast.

The officials also announced that several states in those growing regions will gain new seats in the 435-member House of Representatives in 1992 as a result of reapportionment. A number of low-growth states will lose representation in the House, they said.

Population counts for states are important to educators and school districts because they help determine states' shares of federal education funding. Counts for cities, which have not yet been released, help determine financing among districts within states.

Officials for some of the nation's largest cities have charged that the Census Bureau failed to count large numbers of minorities and low-income people in their jurisdictions. They have called for a statistical adjustment to the census, which Secretary of Commerce Robert A. Mosbacher, whose department oversees the Census Bureau, has said he would consider.

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