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Bush Effort To Fund Innovative Schools Wins Clinton Endorsement

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WASHINGTON--The New American Schools Development Corporation, an initiative begun under President Bush, received a long-awaited endorsement from the Clinton Administration this month.

During a May 14 ceremony on the White House lawn to honor outstanding elementary schools, President Clinton said the private, nonprofit organization, created in 1991, "has already raised millions of dollars from public-spirited business leaders.'' And he urged that its work be supported.

The endorsement could provide a much-needed boost for the Arlington, Va.-based corporation, whose goal of raising $200 million to underwrite the design of "break the mold'' schools has been plagued by fund-raising difficulties.

Business leaders created NASDC as part of Mr. Bush's America 2000 education plan. To date, it has raised only about $50 million and has financed only 11 projects nationwide.

Although the corporation is independent, its perceived ties to the Bush Administration have long hampered its fund-raising efforts. Some business leaders had made further contributions contingent on the Clinton Administration's endorsement.

Earlier this year, corporation officials warned the 11 design teams that NASDC might not have money to support all of them beyond the first year of the project.

Second Phase Is Next

NASDC's board is scheduled to meet next month to select the teams whose work will be financed in the second phase, when teams are slated to test out their blueprints in schools.

Board members will also vote on a revised fund-raising strategy.

Meanwhile, many of the design teams have begun looking elsewhere for support.

A four-member executive-management council has managed the corporation since February, when its president, Ann D. McLaughlin, announced that she would resign because of competing commitments.

Many speculated that the departure of Ms. McLaughlin, who served as Secretary of Labor under President Reagan, would clear the way for the organization to select a leader with fewer ties to the Reagan and Bush administrations.

NASDC officials had been seeking an endorsement from Mr. Clinton since his election.

A 'Breath of Life'

Mary Leonard, the director of the precollegiate-education program at the Council on Foundations, said the President's endorsement could provide a "breath of life'' for NASDC.

"A number of the funders I work with have been concerned that it was perceived as partisan, because it was formed under Bush and the current Administration didn't talk about any plans for continuing it,'' she said.

"The good news,'' she added, is that, regardless of the corporation's prospects, "a lot of people who did receive NASDC grants had been receiving foundation money for years.''

"It was more 'bend the mold' then 'break the mold,''' she continued. "So those projects won't disintegrate.''

At a corporate-sponsored luncheon honoring the blue-ribbon elementary schools, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley reinforced Mr. Clinton's endorsement of NASDC.

Mr. Riley called the corporation, "one promising correlate'' of the President's proposed "goals 2000: educate America act,'' which would provide almost $400 million in grants to states and school districts to reinvent their schools.

NASDC, he suggested, could provide "promising approaches'' that would help all children meet the high standards encouraged by the bill.

Staff Writer Jessica Portner contributed to this story.

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