Wilson's Focus on Preventive Services Called Policy Model for Austere Times
Gov. Pete Wilson's sweeping proposal to integrate educational and other services for California children represents an important new model for state social policy in times of fiscal austerity, according to a number of educators and child-welfare advocates.
Calling for unprecedented, wide-scale collaboration between schools and social-service agencies, the new Republican Governor last month said his goal was to prevent social problems rather than remediate them.
If his policy proposals withstand the formidable challenges posed by the state's budget crisis and divisive politics, experts say, they could spread to other states as well.
"These are exciting ideas being proposed in a very negative fiscal context," said Michael W. Kirst, a professor of education at Stanford University and former president of the state board of education.
The Governor's approach to state social policy is "a big break from his predecessor's, and maybe unique in the country," he added.
"This," Mr. Kirst said, "is a guy who believes that government can be made to work and do things for children."
Mr. Wilson outlined his 10-point plan for child development last month in his State of the State and budget addresses. His initiatives, he said, were based on a vision of government "truly as uncomplicated as the old adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." (See Education Week, Jan. 16, 1991.)
Central to his plan is a $20-million "Healthy Start" program designed to give local school districts funding to integrate county-provided health and social services into elementary schools. The emphasis of the program would be on linkage and referral, rather than direct provision of services within schools.
Although many school districts, including San Diego, have worked to integrate schools and other services, California's proposed program would be one of the most comprehensive--and undoubtedly the largest--such effort undertaken at the state level.
Mr. Wilson's plan also includes $10 million in matching funds for mental-health counseling in elementary schools; $50 million to ex pand the federal Head Start proL gram to provide preschool services to every low-income 4-year-old; $5 million to help school districts train mentors and other volunteers to dis courage students from dropping out; $10 million to improve the state stu dent-testing mechanism; $53 million for a public-private program to enable low-income women to pur chase insurance for prenatal and maternity services; $25 million to treat drug-abusing women; and $4 million for state-mandated drug ed ucation in junior and senior high schools to teach the effects of sub stance abuse on pregnant women and their babies.
"Most politicians talk about how they are going to fund Head Start or how they are going to fund health care, but they never talk about the interrelatedness of those services," Mr. Kirst said. "I have not seen any one give front and center to the link age between schools and other ser vices in such a systematic way."
"What you have here is more than conventional education policy," Mr. Kirst said. "You have a policy vision that says education policy and chil dren's policy have to reinforce each other, that schools can't do it alone, but you can't do it without schools."
Both Democrats and Republicans have greeted Mr. Wilson's proposals with enthusiasm, often claiming his ideas as their party's own.
"Pete Wilson is the governor to re present the decade of the 1990's'' said Michele Davis, executive direc tor of the Republican Governors As sociation, who called Mr. Wilson's plan "the opening shot of what gov ernors have to do this decade."
Also among those who spoke ap provingly of Mr. Wilson's proposals were several Democratic legislators, education leaders, and children's ad vocates who had constantly feuded with his Republican predecessor, Gov. George Deukmejian, over school funding and other issues.
Speaker of the House Willie Lewis Brown Jr., a Democrat, praised Wil son's State of the State Address as "far more progressive and liberal" than any Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in November, "would have ever dared to give."
"We have just come out of eight long years of open warfare between the two branches of government. That we can have a week of concilia tory gestures is like a breath of fresh air around here," said Michael Reese, a spokesman for Mr. Brown.
Mr. Wilson's plan represents "long8time Democratic proposals packaged under this title of 'preventative gov ernment,"' Mr. Reese added.
Superintendent of Public Instruc tion Bill Honig, meanwhile, called the initiatives "the right thing to do and the smart thing to do."
"The tone of this new administra tion is tremendously different," Mr. Honig said. "They want to work to gether, and they have signaled that in a variety of ways."
"There is a sense right now in Cal ifornia that we have a man who is realistic, who is trying to set a vision for the state, who knows we all have to work together to realize that vi sion," said Mary A. Standlee, presi dent of the California School Boards Association. Mr. Wilson's ideas appear to have caught the attention of philanthro pies in the state as well.
Theodore E. Lobman, president of the Stuart Foundations, based in San Francisco, said his organization and at least three other foundations have been discussing the possibility of collaborating with the state in de signing, financing, and evaluating the school-linked services initiative.
Experts on California's education al politics also said Mr. Wilson greatly improved his prospects for mobilizing support for his proposal among educators and Democrats by creating a new cabinet-level post, secretary for child development and education, and naming to it Mau reen DiMarco, a Democrat who for merly served as a member of the Garden Grove school board and resident of the csba
An education consultant, Ms. DiH Marco's role will be to advise the Governor in his effort to link schools and services.Budget Debate Continues5(
While winning praise for his ser vice-integration proposals, Mr. Wil son has run into sharp criticism from educators over his $55.7-bilL lion budget plan.
Faced with a huge projected bud get deficit, Mr. Wilson renewed Gov ernor Deukmejian's call for the suspension of Proposition 98, a constitutional amendment that guarantees public education about 40 percent of the state general fund.
Suspension of the amendment, which requires a two-thirds majority of both legislative chambers, would cause schools to lose about $1.4 billion in state funds next year. The budget also calls for schools to lose another $500 million during the current fiscal year because drops in revenue have triggered mechaLnisms in Proposition 98 that put the lowest funding levels possible under the initiative into effect.
The president pro tem of the Senate, David A. Roberti, and the chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee, John Vasconcellos, have said they would consider suspending Proposition 98 given the state's harsh fiscal climate. But Superintendent Honig and leaders of various education groups are preparing to fight any attempt to suspend the initiative.
The Governor's social-policy agenda "could go down in flames if Proposition 98 becomes another bloodbath," Mr. Kirst warned.
"We had a lot of enthusiasm about working with Pete Wilson," said Ed Foglia, president of the California Teachers Association. "Then he came up with a budget message that was totally unacceptable."
Bill Whiteneck, chief consultant to the Senate education committee, said the chairman of the committee, Gary Hart, was pleased to see more emphasis on programs for young children. But "all indications," Mr. Whiteneck added, are "that their proposed funding is coming at the expense of K-12 reform issues."
The Los Angeles Unified School District would lose $118 million out of its $3.9-billion budget next year if Proposition 98 is suspended, said Robert Booker, the district's chief business and financial officer.
Republican legislators, on the other hand, have objected to Mr. Wilson's proposals to expand the state sales tax to cover more types of goods and to increase state vehicle-license fees and alcoholic-beverage surtaxes.
Even if Mr. Wilson succeeds in implementing his proposal to integrate schools and services, there are no guarantees that the concept will improve education outcomes, experts on service integration caution.
"This is a theory that has been around for 30 years, and this is a the ory that has been tried out hundreds of times throughout the country," said Mr. Lobman of the Stuart Foun dations. "The results vary from heart ening to unpersuasive and are so anecdotal and unscientific that you cannot draw conclusions from them."
Mr. Kirst cautioned that the Gov ernor was likely to encounter resis tance to service integration from "people within the system who want to keep working in splendid isola tion from each other." Such people may do whatever they can to keep changes from being institutionalized, as they have with many pilot programs tried so far, he said.
"There is no lobby for integrating services. The bureaucracies and lob bies are organized to fragment chil dren's policy," Mr. Kirst said. "It takes extraordinary leadership to overcome the centrifugal forces that are organized politically."
Other potential opponents to the integration of services and schools include local politicians, who may not think they have enough money to implement such an effort.
In addition, foes of abortion and sex education, who fear more fam ily-planning clinics will be put in schools, have already raised objections.
"What Mr. Wilson believes is school-based health clinics plus abortion equals a lower teenage-L pregnancy rate," said Danielle Madison, manager of California leg islation for Focus on the Family.3
Ms. Madison said her group would oppose creation of new school-based clinics, which she argued lead to higher teenage-pregnancy rates.3
Vol. 10, Issue 20