Policy Reformers Jockey To Influence Winner of Presidential Election

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WASHINGTON--Lobbying groups, think tanks, and public officials here are already hard at work trying to influence the winner of next month's Presidential election on education and other issues.

Education has a prominent place in the raft of books, manifestos, and policy papers that are making the rounds here and among representatives of H. Ross Perot, Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas, and President Bush.

While the documents primarily address the nation's ailing economy, its long-term growth and global position, and the growing federal budget deficit, they portray education as a key element in economic recovery.

The position papers that are circulating include comprehensive statements by a network of educators; a bipartisan coalition of politicians and policy experts chaired by Sens. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and Pete V. Domenici, R-N.M.; and the Brookings Institution.

In addition, other efforts have been making the rounds here. And some coalitions are bypassing the Washington power structure and taking their policy-advocacy campaigns directly to voters.

"I think people are trying to insert their points of view into the dialogue,'' said Tony Podesta, a Democratic political consultant. "If you either set the agenda or promote the personnel choices, it has a lot of impact.''

Even more policy proposals will be released after the election, Mr. Podesta predicted.

Public School Focus

The Knowledge Network for All Americans, a national group of business and education leaders, presented its public school reform strategy to the Presidential candidates early this month.

The strategy, outlined in a 77-page booklet entitled "Winning the War Against Ignorance: Empowering Public Schools,'' is part of a larger project on the federal role in education to be presented to the President early next year. It has gained the endorsement of associations representing state education officials, teachers, administrators, and parents--a combination the network considers "unprecedented in education political history.''

The document calls for federal, state, and local governments to increase spending on education by at least $315 billion over the next 10 years. That amount would include a federal commitment of $190 billion for educationally disadvantaged students and $125 billion from state and local governments for districts that achieve high performance from students and that secure a community commitment to high educational standards.

The booklet does not address parental choice in schools, but deliberately concentrates on public education, on the grounds that 90 percent of the nation's children are educated there.

"We are addressing this from a competitive viewpoint,'' said Sven Groennings, the network's president and the director of the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education under President Reagan. "So we have to look at public education.''

The network is chaired by former Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell and Augustus F. Hawkins, the former chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee.

Federal Coordination Urged

Among other recommendations, the report calls for:

  • Creating a Federal Interagency Committee on Education to coordinate all federal education activities.
  • Using the National Assessment of Educational Progress to assess the educational performance of American students.
  • Forgiving federal student loans to college graduates who teach five years in public schools.
  • Requiring a report from the President semiannually on the progress of education reform as it relates to global competitiveness.
  • Directing the Secretary of Education to better disseminate working technologies, teaching methods, and reform strategies through the Education Department's research office.
  • Coordinating public and private efforts to establish national goals, standards, and assessments.
  • Establishing a national youth-apprenticeship program.

Vital to World Standing

Also advocating changes in education is the Strengthening of America Commission, a bipartisan collection of politicians, educators, business officials, public-policy scholars, and others assembled by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In a report issued late last month, the group argued that education and training are vital components to revitalizing the nation's economic standing among its world competitors.

While calling for a balanced federal budget by 2002, the commission also urged creation of a $160 billion Endowment for the Future, to be used for education, programs for children, research and development, and technology.

The commission recommended in particular that federal spending on the Chapter 1 compensatory-education program be increased by $87 billion over the next 10 years.

That funding increase should be tied to rules changes in the program that would allow schools with high proportions of educationally disadvantaged children more flexibility in using the money if it is to be used to make "major'' educational reforms and if those schools are held accountable for the results, the group's report proposes.

The fiscal 1993 allocation for Chapter 1 is $6.7 billion.

Other programs that deserve special consideration, the report suggests, are the Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children, childhood-immunization programs, Head Start, and such "intergenerational'' programs as Even Start or an expanded Head Start.

Also, states should consider establishing parent-education programs, while communities could study the feasibility of providing family services at a single site, such as schools, libraries, or recreation centers, the commission indicated.

National Standards Backed

The report also proposes implementation of a system of national performance standards in core subjects, adding that students who meet those standards or go beyond them by the time they graduate from high school should receive certificates of mastery based upon their achievement level.

To help meet those standards, the commission recommended that higher-education institutions raise their entrance standards and that federal financial aid and institutional scholarships be based on performance as well as on need.

The commission said it will address the issue of parental choice in an upcoming report.

In regard to teacher training, the commission called on the federal government to provide forgivable loans to students graduating in the top 10 percent of their high school class, provided they get a degree and go on to teach in public schools. Teachers should be willing to meet higher job standards, the report contends, and receive more pay if they do.

Alternative-certification programs should be widely used, the commission suggested, and the federal government should fund the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards at its authorized level of $25 million a year.

Public School Choice

The Brookings Institution, meanwhile, last month issued its blueprint for revitalizing the nation, entitled Setting Domestic Priorities: What Can Government Do?

The 318-page book includes an essay by Isabel V. Sawhill, a senior fellow with the Urban Institute, who urges spending an additional $1 billion on early-childhood health programs and an additional $6 billion on Head Start, which currently is funded at $2.8 billion a year.

Phased in over five years, the increase, Ms. Sawhill suggests, could be devoted to serving all eligible 3- to 5-year-olds and providing more "full-day, full-year slots so that mothers now on welfare can work.''

In another chapter, Richard J. Murnane of the Harvard University Graduate School of Education and Frank Levy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology call for an expansion of parental-choice programs in public schools, in an effort to "improve accountability and [possibly] student achievement.''

The authors say they do not favor vouchers for private schools, however.

While not offering specific recommendations, the authors discuss systemic education reform, the need for standards and assessments, incentives for students to meet those standards, and methods of school-finance reform.

Mr. Murnane and Mr. Levy also call for an increased federal role in education. They say Chapter 1 should receive $8 billion, that more schools with poor children should be eligible to receive the funds, and that schools should be given more flexibility in using the money.

Ten teacher training demonstration programs, funded at $2 million per program per year for eight years, could be developed to bring more top students into teaching, the authors contend.

Moreover, the authors say, the government should fund research in three key areas of education: state and local assessments, strategies for systemic reform, and measures to monitor the progress of systemic reform.

Vol. 12, Issue 07

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