Bush's Initiatives 'Disappointing,' Educators Tell Senators

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Washington--President Bush's proposed education initiatives are a disappointment, representatives of major education groups told a Senate panel last week.

Witnesses appearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and the Humanities called in particular for changes in Mr. Bush's plans to reward "merit schools" and expand the existing magnet-school program.

Educators are skeptical that the Administration's plan "can correct the stagnation that Secretary [of Education Lauro F.] Cavazos fears in our schools," said David Bennett, superintendent of the St. Paul schools. "In general, we find the scope and size of it to be disappointing."

At the same time, senators' response to Mr. Cavazos' testimony on behalf of the "educational excellence act of 1989" suggested that the subcommittee is unlikely to try to block the legislation.

President Bush unveiled the $441-million education package in April. (See Education Week, April 12, 1989.)

The plan includes $250 million next year to reward merit schools4that have shown academic and other improvements; $100 million in aid for magnet schools not tied to desegregation efforts; a proposal to encourage states to develop alternative certification programs for teachers; $25 million in emergency anti-drug grants for urban school districts; an endowment program for historically black colleges; Presidential awards for exemplary teachers; and scholarships for outstanding mathematics and science students.

Senator Claiborne Pell, the Rhode Island Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, noted that he was a co-sponsor of the bill and expressed a willingness to work with the Administration on the initiatives..

But he told Mr. Cavazos last week that he had "some concerns that the Administration's proposals are not sufficiently targeted to the most needy students and schools."

Mr. Pell previously has said that he had hoped to see the President propose significant increases in such "tried and true" programs as Chapter 1.

The merit-schools program was questioned by several groups and by Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Labor and Human Resources Committee.

"I'm concerned whether this is just going to result in good schools getting better," Mr. Kennedy said. "The way it is constructed concerns me."

Larry McCully, president of the El Dorado, Kan., school board, said the criteria for state selection of merit schools "should place a greater emphasis on funding those school sites which have high concentrations of disadvantaged students."

Mr. Bennett of St. Paul, representing the Council of the Great City Schools, said the merit-school proposal "should be rewritten to create locally based incentives for improvement in schools with high levels of need."

In addition, eligibility for the awards should be limited to Chapter 1 schools with low achievement and high need, he argued.

Some witnesses called on the Congress to drop the proposed aid to "magnet schools of excellence" not related to desegregation efforts.

"The current magnet-schools program is a delicate balance between equity and choice factors that should not be disturbed," said Mr. Bennett.

Mr. McCully, representing the National School Boards Association, pointed out that although 140 districts have applied for funds under the current magnet-school program, the Education Department has indicated that only 55 may get grants.

"Therefore, 85 school districts with magnet-school programs that are part of desegregation plans will go unfunded at the same time that a new, $100-million program is proposed to fund additional school districts without plans," he said.

On another issue, a representative of the National Education Association spoke against the President's alternative-certification proposal. Sheila Gallagher, president of the South Carolina Education Association, argued that the $25 million requested to encourage states to develop such programs would be better spent for research on the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

The proposal comes when states are trying to raise standards for teacher preparation, she said. "This measure would provide funds to help circumvent those standards."

The subcommittee plans to act on the bill in mid-July, said an aide.

Vol. 08, Issue 39

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