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Advocates of Goals 2000 Program Make State Inroads

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The Clinton administration's Goals 2000 program has resurfaced as a political issue in several states in recent weeks. This time, it appears that proponents are on the offensive.

In New Hampshire and Virginia, the only states that have yet to receive a dime under the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, lawmakers are taking steps to force their states to participate. Officials in California and Alabama, meanwhile, may be reconsidering plans to drop out.

In Indiana, however, some state lawmakers are hoping to push the state off the Goals 2000 bandwagon.

The Goals 2000 law, which was enacted in 1994, is the centerpiece of President Clinton's K-12 education agenda. It provides grants to states and school districts to draft and implement school-reform plans centered on challenging academic-content standards and accompanying assessments.

Status Report

Conservative critics have fought the program in some states and communities, arguing that it could lead to federal control over schools.

In recent weeks:

  • The budget committee in Virginia's Democrat-led House passed a budget for fiscal 1996 and 1997 that would require the state to participate in Goals 2000, allowing it to drop out if federal requirements changed.

Republican Gov. George Allen has opposed Goals 2000, and the budget links the program to Mr. Allen's plan for a $23 million student-testing program.

A spokesman for Mr. Allen said the governor "does not support linking testing to Goals 2000. ... I don't think that's negotiable."

The Senate, which is evenly divided between the parties, did not include Goals 2000 language in its budget bill. But Del. J. Paul Councill, who chairs the House education panel, said he hoped that senators would accept it in a conference committee.

  • The New Hampshire House voted 228-122 to apply for Goals 2000 money.

Rep. Nils Larsen, a Republican, said "a significant number of school boards have expressed their interest in participation."

The bill must go to the House finance committee and return to the House floor before being taken up in the Senate, he said. A spokesman for Republican Gov. Stephen Merrill said he remains opposed to Goals 2000.

  • California Superintendent Delaine Easton, who supports Goals 2000, and Gov. Pete Wilson, who has prevented the state from spending $42 million it received under the program this year, have been negotiating on the issue.

Ms. Easton said they have agreed on two areas where Goals 2000 funds could be used: technology and early-childhood reading programs.

"We're trying to give [Gov. Wilson] some comfort, and we're meeting with the federal government to alleviate his concerns," Ms. Easton said.

A spokesman for Gov. Wilson could not be reached for comment.

  • The Indiana Senate voted 29-20 to discontinue participation in Goals 2000.

"Academic improvement is part of their goal, but part of their goal is social," said Sen. Richard Thompson, a co-sponsor of the bill.

It is unclear whether the House will agree.

"I'm not sure what I'm going to do with it yet," said Rep. Phil Warner, who chairs the House education committee.

The legislature is set to adjourn by March 14.

At Odds With James?

In addition, the state school board in Alabama agreed last week to consider reapplying for Goals 2000 funding, according to state Superintendent Ed Richardson. Mr. Richardson said that the board will discuss next month submitting a new school-improvement plan that reflects reforms enacted last year.

Such a move would put the board and Mr. Richardson at odds with Gov. Fob James Jr., who last fall told U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley that his state would no longer participate. Mr. Riley informed Mr. James in December that he could not pull Alabama out of Goals 2000 without Mr. Richardson's agreement.

Because the education agency is "the sole entity eligible to apply for funds on behalf of the state," Mr. Riley wrote, "any steps to end Alabama's participation must also be signed by that official."

Mr. Richardson, who was appointed by Gov. James, acknowledged that even if the state received additional Goals 2000 money, the governor could prevent it from being spent.

Mr. James' education liaison, Dick Brewster, said if changes were made in the program, Mr. James would reassess his stance.

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