Bangerter Proposes Pilot 'Block Grant' Project

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Some governors have highlighted precollegiate education in their 1988 State of the State addresses. Following are reports from several states. Reviews of other governors' fiscal and policy agendas for 1988 are included in the Legislative Update column on the facing page.

In a move aimed at granting schools greater flexibility in spending state funds, Gov. Norman H. Bangerter of Utah has proposed a pilot program that would combine nearly all state aid to districts into block grants.

The proposal was among several controversial education reforms dominating the Governor's Jan. 11 address to legislators.

Mr. Bangerter also called on all districts to issue annual report cards citing the progress of their schools. And he urged local boards to develop "open enrollment" policies allowing students to attend schools in neighboring districts.

All three proposals drew sharp criticism from state education officials and education groups.

No Strings Attached

The most provocative of the Governor's proposals is his plan to distribute state aid to districts as simple block grants, with no strings attached. Though no statistics were available last week, national experts said few--if any--other states currently distribute all or most of their aid to schools in this way.

Under Mr. Bangerter's plan, five districts would initially be given the authority to spend all their state aid as they see fit. They would continue to be governed by the requirements of federal law when using federal-program funds.

If tests show that student progress in the five pilot districts has improved, the Governor said, the program would be expanded.

"Block grants will cut unnecessary strings and red tape," he said, adding that the resulting flexibility could4"improve education and make it more cost-effective and responsive."

Although the proposal was presented as a major item on the Governor's agenda, James Moss, state superintendent of public instruction, downplayed its significance.

"We have to recognize that three-quarters of all aid to schools is already block-granted," he said, "and the rest is federal."

The superintendent said he supported the concept on a small and controlled pilot basis, but added that the Governor's proposal was less cautious than he would have liked.

"I've not seen the Governor request greater accountability as well,'' he noted.

Grading Schools

Mr. Bangerter said his second priority in the education-reform package was the proposal for district report cards. He said the reports, already being mailed to parents in a handful of districts, would encourage "improved quality" in Utah's public schools.

Saying they support the idea in theory, education officials commented that the Governor's lean $1.4-billion budget--already criticized as being "inadequate" to meet the needs of the growing student population--provides no new funds to pay for the project.

The Governor was more cautious in his advocacy of statewide "open enrollment," a practice already allowed under existing state law.

He described the concept as "appealing," but said any such policies should include assurances of equity and quality for all students.

Open-enrollment proposals have been opposed by nearly every education group in the state, according to Mr. Moss. He warned that such practices could encourge "athlete-shopping and scholar-shopping."

"They also discriminate against poor people who can't afford or don't have access to transportation to districts outside their neighborhoods," Mr. Moss said.--dv

Vowing to focus a "laser beam" of attention on public education in the coming year, Gov. Roy Romer of Colorado has proposed major reforms.

The proposals, outlined in his Jan. 7 address, represent the Democratic Governor's first attempt to place a strong emphasis on educational issues, according to observers in the state. Last year, during his first year in office, Mr. Romer laid heavy stress on efforts to improve Colorado's faltering economy.

But this month the Governor told legislators that better public education and future economic development go hand-in-hand.

"We've got to improve the quality of our workforce," he said.

The education proposals he outlined include: a $3.4-million preschool program for 2,000 "at risk" youngsters; additional day-care programs for such children; better measurements for student performance; merit pay for teachers; and upgraded teacher-certification standards.

The Governor also called for a new school-funding formula that removes schools from "excessive reliance on local property tax."

His proposals come at a time of falling state revenues due to depressed agricultural land values and widespread unemployment caused by the drop in energy prices.

Noting such economic realities, state and local education officials predicted that some of the Governor's recommendations may be at least a year away from enactment.

"My sense is that he acknowledges that the economics of the state will not allow for pouring a lot of additional money into education, but that it will be more of a focus now," said Ray E. Kilmer, acting commissioner of education.--dv

Saying that "an average education system is not good enough for Ohio," Gov. Richard F. Celeste used the occasion of his State of the State message to announce the formation of a citizen's commission that will draft a blueprint to set "ambitious and specific" goals for education.

The commission will be headed by Owen B. Butler, retired chairman of the Cincinnati-based Procter & Gamble Company, who has gained national prominence for linking educational success with the future of industry in the United States.

Mr. Butler chaired the committees that produced two policy papers--including Children in Need: Investment Stategies for the Educationally Disadvantaged--for the Committee for Economic Development, a nonprofit group of 225 leaders in business and higher education.

The commission's mandate, as outlined in the Governor's Jan. 13 speech, includes an examination of: the need for preschool and child-care programs; the requirements for a 3rd-grade "guarantee" of mastery in the basic skills; the possibilities for enhancing incentives for teaching; the creation of an international high school; and the pairing of high schools with colleges and universities to "change attitudes about the boundaries between secondary and postsecondary education."

The commission was asked to consult fully with teachers, parents, students, and employers, and formulate its recommendations within three months.--ws

Pledging for the second straight year to place education at the top of his legislative agenda, Gov. Edward D. DiPrete of Rhode Island has asked lawmakers to approve new initiatives in early-childhood education, school finance, and student aid.

"I will not allow educational excellence to become last year's fad, something to be rolled out with great fanfare and then forgotten," Mr. DiPrete told lawmakers.

Adopting a major recommendation of a task force he appointed last year, the Governor proposed a "child education improvement act," which would mandate kindergarten for all 5-year-olds and half-day pre-kindergarten programs for "at risk" 4-year-olds.

The measure would also establish "Governor's schools," which would test innovative strategies for early-childhood education.

To accelerate an effort to boost the state's share of school funding from its current level of 42 percent to 60 percent, he proposed increasing state aid to districts by more than $100 million. The measure would also, he said, "impose standards to ensure that every dollar spent will bring with it measurable results."

The Governor said he would propose tax credits for families saving for higher education, as well as a college-bond program to help families save for tuition.

In addition, he said, he will name a "child-policy coordinator" to oversee the activities and resources of all state agencies responsible for children's issues, and will seek to expand the Head Start program.--rr

Vol. 07, Issue 17

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