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Mont. Lawmakers Reject Goals 2000 as Other States Sign On

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Washington

The Clinton Administration has toted up several victories for its standards-based education-reform strategy in recent weeks, as fence-sitting states have decided to participate--and only one state has firmly rejected it.

At the same time, the Education Department has approved two more statewide school-improvement plans submitted under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act.

"In one sense, the trend is clear," said Michael S. Cohen, a senior adviser to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley and one of the chief architects of Goals 2000.

President Clinton signed the measure into law just over a year ago, Mr. Cohen noted. "People thought we'd have 20 [applications] in and we have 46," he said.

A number of state officials, primarily Republicans, have been leery of participating in Goals 2000, for fear that the strategy effectively increases federal oversight of states' education systems.

Last week, Montana became the first state to officially opt out, as the legislature voted to bar the state's office of public instruction from using Goals 2000 money it had applied for.

Planning Process

With a June 30 deadline looming, state education agencies in Georgia and Ohio recently became the latest to apply for first-year funding. But debate continues in a handful of other states that have yet to apply.

"There seems to be pretty lively discussion going on," Mr. Cohen said.

The grant program that is the heart of Goals 2000 provides money to states and school districts that agree to devise academic standards and accompanying assessments.

Funding in the first year of the program supports the establishment of "improvement panels" that will guide the creation of the standards. Later funding allows the state and local panels to create, and eventually put in place, school-improvement plans.

Last week, department officials announced that statewide school-improvement plans submitted by Kentucky and Utah had been approved. Oregon is the only other state to have reached that stage.

In addition, Ohio submitted an existing statewide improvement plan for approval, and is one of two states--along with Massachusetts--awaiting such approval.

Meanwhile, the Idaho state school board voted 7 to 1 last month to prevent the state superintendent, Anne Fox, from returning the $448,000 in Goals 2000 money the state has received.

A spokeswoman for Ms. Fox, who campaigned last fall in part on her opposition to the state's participation in Goals 2000, said the superintendent will be working with Gov. Phil Batt to appoint members to the statewide school-improvement panel.

Four Holdouts

Four states--New Hampshire, South Dakota, Virginia, and Wyoming--have yet to apply for Goals 2000 funding. It remains unclear whether any or all will do so by the deadline. The decision in each of these states is in the hands of Republicans.

In New Hampshire, the state board, Gov. Stephen Merrill, and Commissioner of Education Elizabeth M. Twomey will collaborate on a decision.

South Dakota's superintendent, John A. Bonaiuto, said he and Gov. William J. Janklow will decide jointly. "This is going to come together for us, but it probably won't happen for a little while," he said.

Gov. George F. Allen of Virginia, who has been critical of Goals 2000, will have the final decision in his state, after receiving a recommendation from the state board of education. State Superintendent Judy Catchpole will have the final say in Wyoming.

Meanwhile, Iowa officials, who have threatened to end the state's participation in Goals 2000, have been negotiating with the U.S. Education Department for weeks. State officials object to the law's requirement that states set standards. Iowa law calls on school districts to perform that task.

"We're optimistic with the response we've gotten so far," said a spokeswoman for Gov. Terry E. Branstad.

Big Sky Dissension

In Montana, the Governor and superintendent are behind Goals 2000, but the legislature apparently disagrees.

The biennial appropriations bill approved by both the House and Senate last week includes language preventing the state education department from spending its Goals 2000 money.

"In Montana, we have arguably one of the best school systems in the country, and I didn't see any reason to submit to any federal control," said State Rep. Bob Keenan, a Republican who attached the language to the bill.

The state has already received $449,712 in Goals 2000 funding, and $224,827 has been distributed to nine school districts.

Gov. Marc Racicot has not decided whether he will sign the measure.

"I think he has to look at what comes down in total in the bill ... and whether we have to forgo Goals 2000 to keep other good pieces," said Pat Haffey, Mr. Racicot's education adviser. "We believe it's a good program. We feel like we went up to bat on this and we did our very best."

Superintendent Nancy Keenan said in a statement that the rejection of Goals 2000 money "is one of many alarming and extreme measures which surfaced in this session of the Montana legislature [and] part of an extremist-right movement that seeks to make Montana its home."

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