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Without Congress, E.D. Spent $3.2 Million on America 2000

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WASHINGTON--A response by the Education Department to a Freedom of Information Act request has provided the most detailed accounting yet of the costs of the Bush Administration's America 2000 education strategy.

Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander has promoted America 2000 with virtually no support from Congress, financial or otherwise. (See Education Week, Oct. 28, 1992.)

The department's response to an Education Week F.O.I.A. request details the relatively small amounts spent directly on America 2000 activities. But other evidence suggests that Mr. Alexander has found ways to apply the Education Department's resources to his agenda, and to supplement them with private support.

Thus, the cost of America 2000 is both less than casual observers might expect and more than is evident in the department's accounting.

In responses to a February query from a member of Congress and last month's F.O.I.A. request, officials estimated that about $3.2 million has been spent directly on America 2000 activities since Mr. Alexander and President Bush unveiled the strategy in April 1991.

Almost $2.8 million financed promotional materials, such as brochures, newsletters, and videotapes.

As of April, when the department responded to the query from Rep. David R. Obey, D-Wis., an additional $382,692 had been spent on "miscellaneous costs.'' The largest such costs were a toll-free telephone number and "the creation of a data base, computers, and supplies to handle the large volume of calls.''

In their response to Education Week's query, department officials said that, as of last month, the toll-free line had cost a total of $65,583.

Broadcasts and Conferences

In addition, officials said the department had spent about $16,000 on "satellite town meetings,'' in which Mr. Alexander discusses America 2000 and the national education goals with educators and callers.

Finally, officials estimated that four regional meetings on America 2000 cost the agency about $94,500, of which $63,800 was spent on travel.

But that summary does not include much that many observers would consider funding for America 2000. It does not, for example, include most official travel.

Mr. Alexander has attended about 50 events at which communities kicked off their America 2000 efforts, according to his spokeswoman. Other officials have attended other events. In their response, officials gave the cost of one trip as an example, estimating that it cost $1,597 for the Secretary and staff to attend the Detroit 2000 ceremony.

In response to a query about how many employees work primarily on America 2000, officials said in their letter to Education Week that "these activities are a part of the department's overall mission'' and that, thus, "almost all employees are involved in one way or another.''

How Much Manpower?

But there are some employees who appear to work almost exclusively on America 2000, including a public-affairs official, workers who are assigned to coordinate efforts on behalf of local initiatives, and those who answer the toll-free line.

The department's accounting also does not include private contributions. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has paid part of the cost of the conferences and the satellite broadcasts, which have originated from the organization's headquarters.

In addition, Leslye A. Arsht, a top aide to Mr. Alexander, recently left the department to head the America 2000 Coalition, a private effort to connect businesses and national social-service organizations with local America 2000 initiatives. It is funded by corporate sponsors.

In their response, officials said all the federal funds used to directly support America 2000 came from the agency's "salaries and expenses'' account, from which the department pays for supplies, travel, and salaries.

In 1991, Mr. Alexander drew the ire of lawmakers when the department announced that it was canceling two grant competitions to redirect the funds to America 2000.

Officials said they would use $990,000 earmarked for a center on dissemination to give out information about the national education goals and America 2000. In addition, $9.7 million from the Secretary's discretionary fund that was to support school-restructuring efforts was instead diverted to start training academies for educators.

Some members of Congress were becoming increasingly irritated at that time at the department's use of federal funds for activities they had not specifically authorized, such as the work of the National Education Goals Panel and the promotion of America 2000. (See Education Week, Dec. 4, 1991.)

Lawmakers restricted discretionary research funds by earmarking money for specific projects. But some still suspect that research funds are being used to promote America 2000.

Standards Projects

While America 2000 is most closely identified with local reform initiatives, it also encompasses a broader agenda. The most substantial federal support has gone to developing national standards and assessments.

The Administration agreed last year to reconfigure the goals panel for political balance, winning Congressional support, and lawmakers generally agreed to support the development of national standards.

But assessments remain controversial. No authorization bill has been enacted, so the standards-development efforts are proceeding without direct funding.

Since the goals panel's inception in early 1991, the Education Department estimates it has funneled about $1.8 million from "salaries and expenses'' into the panel. The agency has also provided staff whose time a panel official estimates has been worth at least $750,000.

Last month, the department took from the Eisenhower mathematics and science program $1.7 million to support development of state curriculum frameworks and $12 million for dissemination through research labs of materials tied to national math standards.

Over the past year, the department has awarded about $2.7 million to consortia developing national standards in civics, geography, science, history, English, and the arts. The funds have come from a variety of accounts, including the Eisenhower program, the Secretary's fund for innovation, and the Fund for the Improvement and Reform of Schools and Teaching. They also were supplemented by other federal agencies and outside groups, such as the National Geographic Society.

Another important part of the America 2000 agenda--creation of innovative schools--has essentially been turned over to the private New American Schools Development Corporation, which is funded by contributions from business. The group has raised $50 million and made 11 awards this year to design teams.

'Not a Separate Program'

Multiple sources and the indirect nature of much of the funding makes it impossible to state conclusively how much has been spent on America 2000. In addition, the department's diffuse and inclusive definition of an "America 2000 activity'' makes it difficult even to total federal spending on the program.

All grant notices and new rules published by the department in the Federal Register draw some connection, however tangential, with America 2000.

"I would hope that all aspects of the Department of Education ... are involved in America 2000,'' Mr. Alexander said in his letter to Representative Obey.

"America 2000 is not a separate program,'' the Secretary continued. "It is a comprehensive, long-term strategy to focus our federal, state, local, and private-sector resources and efforts to transform and improve the quality of American education.''

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