Casey Seeks Legislative Changes in Pa. Learning Goals

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Stepping up his battle with the Pennsylvania state board of education over its hotly debated set of learner outcomes, Gov. Robert P. Casey last week called on lawmakers to make changes in the proposal.

After having been largely rebuffed by the board last month in his request that some of the more controversial outcomes to be expected of students before graduation be removed, the Governor used his State of the Commonwealth Address last week to move the issue into the legislative arena, where the board's proposal appears to face significant opposition.

At issue is the board's pioneering effort to move the basis of state regulation of schools from setting mandates for inputs, such as course or staffing requirements, to oversight of student understanding of a wide range of academic and social topics. The board's proposal has drawn intense opposition over the past year from parent and other groups, which argue that it would lead to the teaching of "values'' instead of academics. (See Education Week, Jan. 20, 1993.)

In his speech, Governor Casey voiced support for the basic idea of shifting to learning goals for students. But, he contended, the board's decision to include a number of nonacademic goals--for example, student understanding of interpersonal skills and of the history of racial discrimination in the United States--threatened the entire proposal.

"The regulations contain language that has become mired in confusion and controversy, which jeopardizes the public support that is essential for the ultimate success of the reform and undermines the reform's purpose: academic achievement for all students,'' Mr. Casey argued.

In urging the legislature to take action on the issue, Governor Casey issued an implicit rebuke of the appointed members of the state board. "We must never forget that you and I--the elected representatives of the people--and not anyone else--have the ultimate responsibility to assure the future of our children,'' he said.

Academic Outcomes Backed

Noting that the board's proposal is subject to legislative review, Mr. Casey asked the leaders of the House and Senate education committees "to quickly approve only the basic academic outcomes which are readily measurable.''

In a briefing before the speech, an aide to the Governor reportedly indicated that Mr. Casey would be willing to resume consideration of the more controversial values-related goals once the basic academic standards were in place.

Early indications suggest, however, that the board's plan may face heavy going in the legislature even with the Democratic Governor's compromise strategy. The board last year delayed action after legislators expressed concern about the plan.

Legislative Republicans, who hold half the seats in the Senate, reportedly are considering a bill to block the regulations outright. Moreover, some observers have suggested that the legislature does not have the power to approve only some of the proposed outcomes, but must submit the plan as a whole to an up-or-down vote.

Also in his speech, Governor Casey vowed a renewed assault on the state's wide disparities in school funding. He is expected to provide details of his finance-equity plan in his budget address next week.

Engler Renews Demands For Property-Tax Cuts

Gov. John Engler of Michigan last week renewed the state's perennial debate over its property-tax system with a call to cut school property taxes by 20 percent over three years.

"I've said it before, and I'll say it again until the job is done: It's time to cut property taxes now!'' Mr. Engler said in a State of the State Address that dwelled on the need to attract new jobs to the state.

The Governor said his tax plan also would call for further reductions in property taxes after three years to prevent such taxes from increasing faster than the rate of inflation as a result of assessment hikes.

Mr. Engler's speech contained no reference to additional funding for education, focusing instead on his desire to see the state get more for what it spends on public schools.

"I recognize that there are those who say schools cannot get better without more money, and that current inequities in funding make it impossible to improve outcomes,'' he said. "I disagree.''

"The facts simply do not support that argument,'' he added.

Mr. Engler noted that the state already has increased its spending on public schools by 48 percent, or $352 million, over the past two years, during a period when state general-fund spending in other areas remained constant.

Conceding that the distribution of the state's school expenditures remains inequitable, Mr. Engler also pledged to offer again this year proposals to remedy the problem when he submits his budget.

The Governor urged the legislature to move swiftly to enact teacher-tenure reforms "to insure that good teachers move up and bad teachers move out.''--P.S.

Edgar Urges Use of Guard To Aid Troubled Youths

Gov. Jim Edgar of Illinois last week urged that the National Guard be used to help improve the lot of troubled youths in the state.

"It is far better to have the Guard members teaching self-discipline, fitness, family responsibility, and other life skills than to have the Guard restoring order to neighborhoods torn asunder by civil war,'' he said in his State of the State Address.

Employing troops as role models was one of several proposals Mr. Edgar announced in the name of innovation. Many of the Governor's youth proposals were listed under priorities other than education. The Guard mentorship program, for example, was mentioned as a crime-prevention initiative.

The Governor also called on the state board of education to launch a pilot youth-apprenticeship program for high school students as part of his economic-development plans.

Under specific education proposals, the Governor said he will convene a conference on parental involvement in schools, expand a program aimed at providing comprehensive social services in school buildings, advocate further deregulation to improve the Chicago public schools, and propose an Illinois Teacher Corps that would provide alternative teacher certification to experienced professionals.

The Governor also indicated that he would request additional funding for education.

"We need to spend more on education in Illinois, and I am prepared to present a budget in March that will provide more,'' he said. "But we need to remind ourselves constantly that money is not the only answer, and money without reforms is no answer.''--L.H.

Vol. 12, Issue 18

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