Washington--The National League of Cities last week formed a new task force on children and education that will seek to increase the group’s influence in the national education-reform debate.
At their first meeting, task-force members recommended that the organization become more active in lobbying on federal issues affecting children and education. They also favored establishment of a program to facilitate the sharing of successful local programs between cities.
Similar moves are being considered by the National Conference of Mayors, which in July will vote on a resolution that, among other provisions, calls for the group to host its own national education summit.
The initiatives come in response to concern among many elected city officials about the lagging performance of urban school systems. And they reflect the fact that members of both organizations are increasingly worried about local education-related issues, even though many of them have little or no direct control over school-district budgets and policies.
There is a growing realization 4among urban officials that their cities “suffer drastically” when their young people are not educated sufficiently to become productive contributors to society, Mayor Norman Rice of Seattle, co-chairman of the League of Cities’ task force, said in an interview last week.
“If we don’t all recognize that we have a role to play in solving these problems, we’re going to see this country fast move to second-class status,” he said.
In a recent league poll, 10 percent of the members responding listed education as the number-one problem facing cities. Only drugs and finances were cited by more members.
The league’s task force will work to build cooperative relationships with the nation’s major education lobbying groups, in the same manner that Mr. Rice hopes locally elected officals will enter into partnerships with their schools.
The Seattle Mayor has no say over the budget or decisions of his city’s school board, but Mr. Rice made improving education a major theme of his successful bid last fall to become the city’s first black mayor.
Mr. Rice is widely credited with helping turn a raging debate over student busing into an ongoing assessment of the quality of city schools. In May, he said, Seattle plans to host a two-day citywide summit on education that will be preceded by 20 to 30 neighborhood summits.
“I’m hoping that they will refine, clarify, or develop our priorities, and I’m hoping as Mayor I can firm up and direct our resources where they need to be,” he said.
Mr. Rice and other league officials said much of the discussion at the task force’s meeting here last week centered on how city governments can build cooperative relationships with their school districts.
One of the ideas attracting the most interest, they said, is the creation of joint committees of school and city officials, like those that meet regularly in such cities as Minneapolis, Evanston, Ill., and Rochester, N.Y.
The other co-chairman of the new task force, Mayor Donald Fraser of Minneapolis, and its vice-chairman, Mayor Alice K. Wolf of Cambridge, Mass., are both leaders in building new relationships with their school systems, they said.
“One of the things that came out was a sensitivity to the notions of collaboration and cooperation,” said John E. Kyle, the league official designated to staff the task force. “That’s the policy they would like to take.”
“We are cognizant of the role of school boards in running the schools,” said Mayor Rice. “We’re talking about how we can enhance the partnership between cities and schools, rather than how we can lead it or take it over.”
Mayors’ Summit Considered
In contrast, Mayor Ted Mann of Newton, Mass., who has been leading the push for a Conference of Mayors education summit, is less worried about arousing fears of interference among school-board members.
“I’m not concerned with who feels threatened,” he said in an interview last week. “If a school district is not doing right by education, mayors pay the price.”
Mayor Mann, who is chairman of the conference’s human-development committee, said that a summit convened by the mayors would draw public attention to the crises in urban schools and help persuade businesses and universities to join in partner4ships with local schools.
It would also, he said, “heighten the awareness of mayors of the penalty we will pay if we don’t do something.”
The proposed resolution would also direct the Conference of Mayors to increase its lobbying efforts for more federal funding for such programs as Head Start and student financial aid.
The conference’s membership consists of mayors of cities with more than 30,000 residents, while the League of Cities is a much larger organization whose members include both mayors and city-council members.
A version of this article appeared in the March 14, 1990 edition of Education Week as League of Cities Creates Task Force on Education, Children