Reform's Emphasis Seen Shifting to Higher Education

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The emergence of new state leaders interested in education, the growing power of the states, and the high educational expectations of the Baby Boomers will probably continue to fuel the education-reform movement into the 1990's, according to a state-of-the-states report issued last week.

But in the next few years, the states will probably turn more of their attention from elementary and secondary education to higher education, the report says. And eventually the debate over choice could dominate state education politics, it predicts, as "those advocating a free-market approach to education vie for legislative control with those who are afraid that the public schools will become welfare schools of the poor."

Larger Report

The education "working paper," written by E. Norman Sims, is one of 17 included in a 90-page state-of-the-states report compiled by staff members of the Council of State Governments. It was presented last week at the council's annual meeting in Lake Tahoe, Nev., by Gov. Charles S. Robb of Virginia, the csg president.

The report also examines such topics as health care, political realignment, and policies on coastal areas.

The report identifies four major education issues now confronting the states: improving mathematics and science instruction; upgrading the quality of students electing to become teachers and rewarding outstanding current teachers; preparing for a teacher shortage; and shifting the focus to higher education.

"Part of the interest in improving higher education is coming from the same forces for economic growth that have propelled the interest in improving science and math instruction in grades K-12," it states. ''There is also every reason to believe that ... many higher-education policymakers have seen the budget improvements that reform brought to the lower schools and feel that it is now their turn in the sun."

Continued Decentralization

A major theme of the report is that regardless of which political party captures the White House in 1988, the decentralization of power from the federal government to the states is likely to continue, primarily be-cause of the federal budget deficit.

"By the end of the century, if not before, it is not farfetched to project that the federal government will be responsible for national defense, the national debt, Social Security, income-maintenance programs, and little else," Governor Robb said in introducing the report.

"Deficits, demographics, and defense will combine to effectively restrain the federal government's domestic role for years to come," the report states, "and will cause those in Washington to look more and more to the subnational level for leadership and action."

The report contends that the increased responsibilities now being thrust upon the states present them with a "historic window of opportunity." One of the working papers recommends that even more responsibilities should be turned over to the states, because, it says, the current federal-state relationship "exhibits several undesirable tendencies."

"It contributes to an unmanageable political agenda, promotes undue federal interference in the operation of state and local governments, weakens political and fiscal accountability, and frequently produces incongruence at the state and local levels between citizen prefer-ences and the goods and services provided by their governments," the paper states.

Although the flow of federal dollars to state and local governments has slowed, the Congress continues to "impose its will on state and local governments," the report states, creating "tension and conflict in the intergovernmental system."

At the same time, local governments will become increasingly dependent on states, as a result of federal budget cuts and the states' greater revenue-raising capacities, the report predicts.

As a result, many states will soon find themselves caught in a "fiscal bind," the report adds, with some of them "more ready, willing, and able [than others] to fill in gaps created by federal aid cuts."

Vol. 05, Issue 15

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