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E.D. Form for Goals Funding Sent to States

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Education Department officials last week sent to governors and state schools chiefs a four-page application form representing the first step in a process that the Clinton Administration hopes will lead to the adoption of high standards for student performance and new ways of assessing that performance.

Republican critics have said that the Goals 2000 school-reform initiative--and particularly modifications Democratic lawmakers made in the Administration's plan--would lead to excessive federal control of local schools.

But the documents released last week and interviews with Administration officials indicate that the Administration plans to give states a great deal of latitude in implementing Goals 2000.

Indeed, states can apparently receive funds for at least the first year of the program simply by promising to draft the comprehensive school-improvement plan that is to serve as the heart of a state's efforts.

"We want to focus on results, not oversight; on assistance, not criticism; on support of state and local efforts in a comprehensive approach, not separate federal activities,'' Thomas W. Payzant, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, said in a letter to state chiefs.

The application form essentially asks states to describe the process they will use to develop their plans.

"A lot of the answers to questions that people have are not going to be what they expect from the federal government,'' said Michael Cohen, a counselor to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley. "It's not going to be, 'Check this box and send it back by this time to get your grant.' It'll be like, 'Well, you have to figure that one out for yourself.'''

Representatives of governors and state schools chiefs praised the application's simplicity.

"I don't think there's any state that's going to have to start from scratch,'' said John T. MacDonald, the coordinator of the Council of Chief State School Officers' State Leadership Project.

In addition to the narrative, states are asked for routine assurances that they have the authority to participate and that they will comply with requests for information or periodic reviews.

A Sure Thing

The minimal requirements virtually assure first-year Goals 2000 funding for any state that completes the application.

The department also announced how much federal funding each state will be entitled to in the first year, ranging from $288,000 in Wyoming to $9.9 million in California. Separate grants will support the integration of technology into improvement plans.

The Goals 2000 law provides that half the funds be distributed among states under the formula for the Chapter 2 block grant, which is essentially based on overall school-age population. The other half is allocated under the formula for the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program, which will direct more funding to districts with high concentrations of poor students.

Of the $105 million appropriated by Congress for Goals 2000 in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, about $90 million is to be allocated to states, territories, and Bureau of Indian Affairs schools in that way.

The Administration plans to reserve about $4.5 million to fund the development of model national opportunity-to-learn standards and model assessments. The Goals 2000 law mandates that this work be done by consortia under contract to the new National Education Standards and Improvement Council, or NESIC, which will itself develop model national standards for student performance and curricular content, and will certify standards and assessments voluntarily submitted by states.

The remainder of this year's Goals 2000 funding will support the operation of NESIC, a similar board that will certify occupational-skills standards, and the National Education Goals Panel.

Taking Their Time

The President has requested $700 million for the entire Goals 2000 effort for fiscal 1995, which starts Oct. 1, and plans eventually to ask for $1 billion annually. If Congress approves the request, at least 21 states will receive more than $10 million in 1995.

The department expects states to submit first-year application forms quickly. But officials have urged states to hold off until late this month, when the Administration has scheduled a conference here on Goals 2000 implementation.

Federal officials expect to approve applications within a month of their receipt, and grants could be disbursed as early as July.

States will have two years after approval of the initial application to submit school-improvement plans.

Department officials have specifically asked states that have been working on school reform for a number of years, and presumably could prepare plans that meet the specifications easily, to take some time to refine their plans.

In any case, the Education Department is not yet prepared to review completed plans. The review process, Mr. Cohen said, is "not something that we've figured out yet.'' He said the department is looking for states that may want to go through the review process on a trial basis.

"This department has never done a review process of this kind before,'' Mr. Cohen said. "I would bet that in our very first review in our very first state we'll realize we have a lot to learn.''

The law requires the Secretary of Education to establish a peer-review process for determining whether school-improvement plans comply with the law.

Tom Fagan, a special assistant for compensatory-education programs who has been tapped to lead the Goals 2000 implementation effort, said the department will assemble a set of outside readers when applications begin arriving.

Standards and Processes

The most important provisions of the law require that states outline how they will go about establishing curricular-content and student-performance standards, how they will align assessments to those standards, and how they will approach the development of opportunity-to-learn standards or strategies.

The plans must also outline a process to solicit public input and include assurances the plans will be coordinated with state school-to-work-transition programs.

But the law does not establish specific criteria for approving state improvement plans or describe in detail what states must do.

For example, Goals 2000 calls on states to establish opportunity-to-learn standards or strategies but does not specify what constitutes an "opportunity standard.''

The law says only that the standards "shall include such factors as the state deems appropriate to insure that all students receive a fair opportunity to achieve the knowledge and skills as described'' in state content and performance standards. And states and districts are not required to implement their standards.

Mr. Cohen said department officials have no plans to write any regulations related to participation in Goals 2000. Regulations are virtually always issued for new or reauthorized programs, further detailing statutory requirements.

Instead, Mr. Cohen said, guidance will come from the law itself and from a technical-assistance team. Rather than establish a separate Goals 2000 office, the team will draw from many departmental divisions.

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