State JournaL: Bipartisan politics; Kean's choice on 'choice; 'Attack on illiteracy

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Concerned that the prospect for school reform would dim amid partisan sniping, Michigan's governor and top legislative leaders have agreed to create a special House-Senate panel to take the lead on the issue.

According to legislative aides, the idea for the panel was the result of a rare meeting on Feb. 4 between Gov. James J. Blanchard and the leaders of the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House. The chambers' majority and minority leaders requested the meeting with the Democratic Governor to talk over the many education- and school-finance-reform bills now pending.

The 14-member committee will have seven members from each chamber--four from the majority and three from the minority. According to the aides, it will have until early June to sift through all the bills with an eye to the difficult aim of both boosting school quality and--at the same time--lowering property-tax rates.

The spirit of bipartisanship emerged in a second forum as well. While the Governor and legislative leaders were conferring, Republican Senators who are sponsoring reform bills held an unusual meeting with the chamber's 18-member Democratic Caucus to discuss avenues of cooperation.

New Jersey's commissioner of education has appointed the vice president of Kean College to head an inquiry into whether parents should be allowed to choose which public schools their children attend.

Frank J. Esposito will take a year-long leave of absence from the college to conduct the study, according to a spokesman for Gov. Thomas H. Kean.

The Governor called for the study on expanding parental choice in education in his State of the State Message last month.

Gov. Bill Clinton says he plans to ask Arkansas lawmakers next year to support a broad-based attack on illiteracy.

A spokesman said Mr. Clinton will seek approval for a scholarship and loan program for college students who agree to participate in a state literacy corps. In an interview with the Associated Press, he said his goal was to cut the illiteracy rate by 80 percent in counties in the Mississippi Delta.

"If we can do it and advertise it, it'll be on '20/20,' it'll be in Time, it'll be in Newsweek, it'll be in U.S. News and World Report, and those terribly depressed counties ... instead of being a liability, will become an economic asset," he said.--tm

Vol. 07, Issue 22

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