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Oregon Wins Waiver Authority, Goals 2000 Approval

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Oregon is the first state to gain approval for a statewide school-improvement plan under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the Education Department announced last week.

Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley called federal approval of the Oregon plan "a milestone" for the Goals 2000 effort, which may face a struggle to survive under the Republican Congress.

The Goals 2000 reform strategy, which the Clinton Administration views as the centerpiece of its education agenda, provides federal grants to states and school districts that agree to set challenging academic standards. Congress approved $403 million for Goals 2000 activities in this fiscal year.

But many members of Congress, particularly Republicans, are openly skeptical about the program, which they see as an attempt to assert federal control over local schools. And lawmakers' desire to restrain spending will also hurt the Administration's chances of winning continued funding for Goals 2000.

Even the program's current funding could be in jeopardy. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education is expected this week to begin its mark-up of a fiscal 1995 budget-rescissions bill, and Goals 2000 money has been mentioned as a potential target.

In this increasingly hostile political climate, Administration officials are eager to showcase states such as Oregon that are jumping on the Goals 2000 bandwagon.

'EdFlex' Status

Oregon is slated to receive $4.1 million in 1995 to implement its school-improvement plan, at least 85 percent of which must be sent to individual schools. The state had received $1 million in 1994 to develop the plan.

This week, Oregon also will become the first state granted regulatory freedom under the "EdFlex" provision of the Goals 2000 law.

The idea of allowing states to seek waivers from federal regulations has been pushed for years by the Bush and Clinton administrations and supporters on Capitol Hill. The version enacted last year, as an amendment to the Goals 2000 bill sponsored by Sen. Mark O. Hatfield, R-Ore., allows six states to participate in a demonstration project.

States that are granted EdFlex status can waive federal rules for the Title I compensatory-education program, the block grant formerly known as Chapter 2, and four other categorical programs if the rules are a barrier to making school reforms and carrying out the standards-setting requirements in Goals 2000.

Secretary Riley was scheduled to join Senator Hatfield, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, in Oregon this week to announce the state's EdFlex designation.

Larry Austin, a spokesman for the state schools superintendent, Norma Paulus, said the EdFlex status will be more important than the Goals 2000 money, which will be devoted to teacher training efforts.

But Mr. Austin also defended Goals 2000. Noting that the state plan Oregon submitted had been approved by the state legislature in 1991, he argued that this rebuts critics' claims that Goals 2000 amounts to too much federal involvement in education.

"Our program is homegrown," Mr. Austin said. "Goals 2000 is not a national curriculum. It's just a national call for higher standards."

All but six states--Georgia, New Hampshire, Ohio, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wyoming--have received first-year funding to develop improvement plans under Goals 2000. But only two states other than Oregon--Kentucky and Utah--have submitted plans.

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