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Despite Safe, Civil Focus, Chiefs Talk Politics

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Denver

While the themes of this years annual meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers were school safety, civility, and literacy, the debate never strayed far from politics. Namely, participants were asking how schools will fare as a result of this months elections.

"Education issues were given more substantive attention in this election than in any since 1950," Gordon M. Ambach, the executive director of the council, said at the recent meeting here. "The message about the importance of education was heavily touted on both sides, with both parties advocating an activist role at the federal level."

But at a time when student enrollment is setting records and education needs are great, he warned that the council must campaign hard in the coming years for increases in federal education funding--especially given the Clinton administration's goal of balancing the federal budget by 2003.

"We need to cultivate the bipartisan education majority in both houses of Congress," Mr. Ambach told the chiefs. Referring to the pre-election boost in federal school funding for fiscal 1997, he said, "You don't get a $3.5 billion increase unless you find the center."

An overview report on the council's positions on lobbying Washington begins by stressing the important role that federal education policies and programs have had in states and localities, a reminder for many Republicans who campaigned to abolish the U.S. Department of Education.

"Federal initiatives have had important, long-term impacts," the report concludes. "The most recent stress on standards, quality, and pushing for excellence throughout the system is the most important nationwide thrust. We must have a federal role, resources, and organizational structure to carry that mission."

In setting strategy for upcoming debates over funding for impact aid, Goals 2000, and the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act, the report emphasizes the need for resisting tradeoffs that would cut education programs to reduce the federal deficit. The report argues that an educated, highly skilled workforce will spur the economic growth that will ultimately produce a balanced budget.

The council's report implores the secretary of education to make sure that the "essential connections between education and economic development, education and security, education and welfare reform, education and health policy, education and environmental protection, education related to telecommunication ... are effectively presented and implemented."

William T. Randall, the retiring Colorado schools chief and the council's outgoing president, echoed the theme of viewing education as a central part of any social or fiscal policymaking.

"The best thing we can do as an organization is keep the nation's scattered attention focused on our highest priority: kids," he said. "If we concentrate on creating a safe, civil, and literate environment in which they can pursue their educations, then they can't help but reward us with a safe, civil, and literate environment in the future."

Mr. Randall also led the cheers for higher academic standards.

The chiefs released a standards report at their conference. The document urges states to review academic standards in a larger context.

"States and localities need to be informed about the quality of their standards compared to others and about the quality of proposed voluntary standards developed by various organizations," the report says. States should also seek criteria for reviewing and rating their standards, it says.

Beyond the policy positioning, the chiefs also attended to some internal politics, shuffling members of the group's governing board and passing the gavel to a new chief chief.

West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Henry Marockie replaced Mr. Randall as council president. Kentucky education Commissioner Wilmer S. Cody will serve as president-elect.

--KERRY A. WHITE

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