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Dancing in the dark

Wisconsin Gov. Tommy G. Thompson danced himself into some good-natured ribbing at last week's national conference of the Education Commission of the States in San Antonio.

Mr. Thompson, finishing a year as the chairman of the organization, joined conference participants in a line-dancing class at the Don Strange ranch during the event's opening evening June 30.

A local band led Gov. Thompson and company through line-dancing ditties like "Cotton-Eyed Joe" and "Boot-Scootin' Boogie," and steps like the Texas Stomp.

The following evening, Frank Newman, the president of the ECS, gave the Republican governor a crystal elephant in honor of his work with the group.

Said Mr. Newman as he handed over the gift: "This elephant not only represents your political persuasion, but it also represents your skill in line-dancing."

Staying flexible

Last year, Anne Fox, Idaho's Republican state schools chief, had to be ordered by lawmakers to accept funds from the federal Goals 2000 program, the Clinton administration's signature school-reform law. But this year, Ms. Fox is glad to cash in on the $1.5 million the state is scheduled to receive.

Ms. Fox says her turnabout is a result of a more lenient U.S. Department of Education. She said federal officials are allowing Idaho to use the money to pay for new computers and use an existing reform plan.

"Because of her questioning the strings that were attached to Goals 2000 in the first place--the movement toward that end here and in other states--now you can have more flexibility in how you use those funds," said Rhonda Edmiston, a spokeswoman for Ms. Fox.

But officials at the Education Department say it is change in Idaho and not in Washington that is at work.

The state had always been free to use its strategic plan as a blueprint, said Jennifer Davis, a special assistant to the U.S. secretary of education. And under the original law, Idaho, like other states, could use Goals 2000 money for technology, as long as it focused on improving student achievement, she added.

"Over time, there has been a building of trust and a clarification of the misunderstandings about what Goals 2000 is," Ms. Davis said. "We are very pleased that Idaho will benefit from these flexible funds."

--ROBERT C. JOHNSTON & MEG SOMMERFELD

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