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Chiefs Urge States To Spearhead Collaboration of Services

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CHARLESTON, S.C.--State governments must take the lead in bringing about collaboration between education and social-service agencies to address the full range of student needs, the nation's state education chiefs urged last week.

The call for greater cooperation between the schools and health, welfare, job-training, and other service providers was adopted here at the annual meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The product of a yearlong study directed by the council's outgoing president, Werner Rogers of Georgia, the proposal will be put into practice over the next three years through grants and legislative efforts, officials said.

While it reflects a growing trend in recent years toward greater school involvement in providing comprehensive services for children at the local level, the C.C.S.S.O. study emphasizes the importance of the state role in facilitating collaboration.

"State government is uniquely positioned to see that relationships across sectors and among various levels of government are reoriented in ways that improve outcomes for children and families,'' the report says.

To do so, the report continues, states will need both to require and to provide incentives for agencies to work together, in hopes that the process of jointly conceiving and implementing strategies for children and families will gradually become institutionalized.

The report acknowledges, however, that such efforts will require changes in the way that the states themselves do business. "State education agencies and other state agencies concerned with children and families must systematically reassess their internal organizations, practices, and use of resources,'' it says, so that each agency's decisions will be made in light of "shared goals and reciprocal effects of actions.''

In helping local communities increase collaboration, the report suggests, states should be prepared to provide technical help, regulatory waivers, and funding.

The most spirited discussion during the three-day meeting, however, focused on the potential pitfalls involved in planning comprehensively for a wide range of programs.

'The Focus Isn't There'

At issue was a proposal for reauthorization of the Hawkins-Stafford elementary and secondary education act, which will be considered by Congress next year.

The proposal offered by a C.C.S.S.O. task force included a provision allowing states to submit a single plan for using federal funds under a whole series of programs, including Chapter 1, program improvement and professional development, and health and drug prevention.

Backers of the proposal said it would enable states to coordinate and direct funding in ways geared to their specific needs, while still preserving the separate nature of the programs at the federal level.

"We talk about systemic reform,'' said Barbara Nielsen of South Carolina, "but, on the other hand, we're continuing to fragment'' efforts under the current system.

But critics of the idea raised two major concerns. One was that, by being combined at the state level, the programs would lose their distinctive character--and political constituency--at the federal level.

"Look what happened to the Chapter 2 [block-grant program],'' said Bill Honig of California. "They've been cutting it every year because the focus isn't there.''

Mr. Honig and others also pointed to the possibility that states would use their broad new authority to divert resources away from poor children and other groups in need of special help.

"The pivotal issue is whether the authority would mean that a state could propose to take resources on the federal level for Chapter 1 and use them for any of the other programs,'' said Gordon M. Ambach, the group's executive director.

Members eventually agreed to a compromise proposal retaining the option for a comprehensive state plan but making clear that states could not shift funds between broad categories of programs.

Looking ahead to the coming year, council members adopted as their 1993 priority the concept of "systemic change.''

Systemic Change

Mr. Honig, who took over as president of the group, acknowledged that the exact outlines of a systemic-change initiative have yet to be determined.

"The agenda we'll be working with is how do we get this all to work together in some kind of common direction,'' he said. "We know some of the things we want to do, but we're not sure how to do it.''

In general, though, officials described a systemic approach as one attempting to bring together efforts in the areas of goals and standards, curriculum reform, school-based decisionmaking, staff development, collaborative relationships, and improved linkages with employers and postsecondary education.

"Anybody talking about systemic change is taking a very comprehensive view,'' Mr. Ambach observed. "Unless you work the agenda in several places, you won't come out with systemic change.''

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