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State Lawmakers Seek Place at Goals 2000 Meeting

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Washington

State legislators, who have led education-reform efforts in some states, are miffed that the U.S. Education Department has not extended them an invitation to attend the first major conference on the implementation of the Clinton Administration's reform strategy.

In a letter mailed on April 1 to governors and state school chiefs, Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley asked those officials to select a team of three to six persons to represent each state at the conference, which is set for late May.

The federal agency will pay the expenses of three participants from each state, and Mr. Riley suggested that aides to the governor and schools chief attend, as well as a school district representative.

"Remaining participants,'' Mr. Riley says in the letter, "might include a member of the higher education or business community, a parent and/or community activist, a representative of students with special needs, an educational technology expert, or an expert in the development of academic or occupational standards.''

State legislators say they have been slighted.

"No governor can do it alone, but they're proceeding as if governors can speak for states,'' said Aaron Bell, the director of education and job training for the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Legislatures can block everything [governors] want to do.''

Mr. Bell added that the Secretary secured state lawmakers' support for the Goals 2000 bill by assuring them that they would have a voice in implementing the program.

"Some people may think that this may be a nominal issue for us, but the very first impression is going to be the most lasting impression,'' Mr. Bell said.

Michael Cohen, a counselor to Mr. Riley, said the conference will be the first of many efforts to aid grantees and promote the program.

"From our point of view, this is one step we're going take to get people involved,'' he said. "You couldn't plan a national conference that would accommodate everybody.''

Uncertainty Remains

The Goals 2000: Educate America Act was signed into law on March 31, and the department has quickly tried to mobilize state officials to take part.

A key element of the law is a grant program that will fund reform efforts. Funds will go to states and to districts via state agencies. Governors have a key leadership role within states and on the National Education Goals Panel.

State legislators have less of a statutory role, although they fought successfully to add four members of their ranks to the goals panel, and to insert language suggesting that state lawmakers serve on state reform panels.

That a controversy over participation in the conference came to a head only a little more than a week after enactment of Goals 2000 may indicate that key state players are still struggling to determine what their roles will be, and that uncertainty remains about how the program will be put into practice.

The Council of Chief State School Officers last week began a campaign to inform their members about their role and what to expect from the Education Department. The group's information package also includes a survey to determine what reforms states adopt.

"It's not a static situation out there,'' John T. MacDonald, the coordinator of the chiefs' state leadership project, told reporters.

In an interview, he said he expects most state chiefs to consult state legislators when formulating a reform plan.

"To leave people that, frankly, appropriate the money out of the process is just shooting yourself in the foot,'' he said.

As N.C.S.L. representatives meet with federal officials in an effort to negotiate increased participation in the Goals 2000 process, school district officials and school board members are waiting for state-level decisions to be made.

Districts will not take much action, said Edward R. Kealy, the director of federal relations for the National School Boards Association, "until they get a sense of direction from the state departments of education.''

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