Education Policy Figures Prominently at GOP Governors' Meeting
Teacher quality and children's literacy emerged as prominent issues during the featured policy discussion at last week's annual conference of the Republican Governors Association.
Arizona Gov. Jane Dee Hull offered one of the most pointed examples of how important teacher preparation has become to the 26 governors and six governors-elect in attendance.
Ms. Hull said she would support funding increases in next year's legislative session for one state university based on the way it prepares future teachers. "Two others do a lousy job," she added. "I can tell you which one will get increased funding."
In an interview later, she explained that Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff has won her favor for focusing on teacher training and getting more of its students into the field earlier to work in schools.
In contrast, she faulted "some people" at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona who, she maintained, "tend not to think all kids can learn" and who want to "conduct experiments with education."
Also looking ahead to 1999, Gov. Paul Cellucci of Massachusetts, who has been serving in an acting capacity but now has won election in his own right, reiterated his campaign pledge to back a bill that would require veteran teachers to pass a competency test when they are recertified every five years.
Mr. Cellucci also defended a new test that his state now requires prospective teachers to pass. The exam sparked a still-heated debate this year after more than half of those who initially took it failed.
"It's simple. Subject-matter competence must be basic for teachers," Mr. Cellucci said.
Gov. George W. Bush of Texas was able to take a break from questions about a possible presidential bid to talk about local reading academies for teachers and a new reading-instruction guide published by the state.
"Our goal is to have every child reading at grade level by 3rd grade," he declared. "All our kids will read. Then I can go from being the 'reading governor' to being the 'math governor.' "
Emboldened by an election year that saw 16 of 18 incumbent Republican chief executives on the ballot re-elected, the governors said they hope to get new concessions from the Republican-controlled Congress.
During a lunch with reporters, Gov. Michael O. Leavitt of Utah said that Republican and Democratic governors could push to get Congress to expand regulatory exemptions from federal school programs. The policy is known as "Ed-Flex."
"I think we can get a bipartisan coalition on this," he said.
Getting Congress to cut checks, as well as the strings attached to them, was a common theme here.
The governors urged Congress to pay for existing mandates, such as special education requirements, rather than create new programs.
"They need to say, 'Here's $20 billion for the next five years to develop programs in standards, teacher testing, and safe schools to improve education quality for all.' "
Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin added in an interview. "We'll report back on an annual basis."
Gov. Frank Keating of Oklahoma, who last week replaced defeated Gov. David M. Beasley of South Carolina as the association's chairman, said the chief executives would be working to exert more influence on Congress.
"We are demanding bipartisan congressional and gubernatorial involvement in finding solutions, he said.
A leading Republican pollster said that the electoral redemption of the party at the federal level--where the gop lost ground in the House and merely held its own in the Senate--would depend on a message about education.
"Republicans need a message on education that resonates with the public," said Neil Newhouse, a pollster with Public Opinion Strategies in Washington. "Just talking about sending education back to local governments is not enough."
His suggestion? Republicans in Congress ought to come up with a plan for teacher-competency tests.
Asked whether publicly funded vouchers for private schools would also work as a campaign theme in 2000, he said probably not.
Gov. John Engler of Michigan said that because the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act is up for reauthorization in 1999, it might be a good time to craft a new federal education message.
Asked specifically about teacher-certification tests, he added, "I'm always wary of federal answers to local education issues."
--ROBERT C. JOHNSTON
Vol. 18, Issue 13, Page 15