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In Reversal, Alabama To Accept Goals 2000 Funding

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After gaining assurances from the Department of Education, the Alabama state school board has reversed itself and decided to accept federal Goals 2000 funding.

Under the board's decision last month, Alabama plans to distribute nearly $7.3 million to local school systems through a competitive grant program. Districts are to vie for grants and spend the money exclusively on educational technology--hardware, software, and training for teachers and students.

The same board had rejected the federal school-improvement money in June and specifically barred Alabama school systems from applying for it on their own.

This summer, in response to questions posed to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, the state board learned that it could limit the use of Goals 2000 money to educational technology. Mr. Riley also assured Alabama officials that accepting the funds would not give the federal government control of Alabama's curriculum and that state or district improvement plans would not have to win the approval of the federal Education Department.

Mr. Riley's Aug. 2 reply "gave all of us that had concerns about the program the comfort we needed to vote to accept the money," said Bradley Byrne, the state board member who queried Mr. Riley.

The June decision, Mr. Byrne said, had been based both on a lack of information and misinformation about the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, President Clinton's chief school-improvement initiative. The board vote came too soon after Congress made changes in the law for the board to be fully informed, Mr. Byrne said.

Before the state board became involved, Gov. Fob James Jr., a Republican, wrote Mr. Riley last year to say that the state would not take Goals 2000 money.

Mr. James, a member of the state board, remains opposed to the use of Goals 2000 money. He did not stay at last month's meeting long enough to cast a vote.

Districts Apply

The Goals 2000 program, which has been the subject of similar battles in other states, provides grants to states--and now to districts in certain states--that can show they have blueprints for comprehensive school improvement.

Now, Alabama has access to two pots of money. In 1994, the state board applied for but never actually claimed from the U.S. Treasury about $1.6 million in fiscal 1994 Goals 2000 funding. Officials are also in the process of applying for nearly $5.7 million in fiscal 1996 Goals 2000 money.

Meanwhile, more than 300 school districts in Montana, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma have applied directly to the Education Department for Goals 2000 money, said Jennifer Davis, Mr. Riley's policy adviser on the program.

Those three states, in addition to Alabama and Virginia, were the only ones not participating in Goals 2000 as of last October. A change earlier this year in the Goals 2000 law allowed districts in the five states to apply individually.

As of last week, 62 of Montana's 486 districts had applied for a total of $1.5 million in fiscal 1995 money; 82 of New Hampshire's 164 districts had applied for $1.29 million; and 222 out of 554 districts in Oklahoma are vying for $4.4 million.

The Education Department is to announce the grant awards in the next three weeks.

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