Proposed Criteria for Picking Goals 2000 Districts Outlined

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School districts wishing to participate in the Goals 2000 program without the assistance of their states will be asked to describe how they will spur student improvement with challenging content and performance standards.

A notice that is to be published in the Federal Register this week outlines criteria by which the Department of Education will select districts for grants under a new pro-vision that allows them to apply individually if their states do not participate in the Clinton administration's school-reform effort.

Districts must use the money to draft or implement comprehensive school-improvement plans based on challenging academic standards and accompanying student assessments. But districts will not be required to submit the plans to the department for approval.

"We hope the applications will show how [the districts' plans] are connected to all kids achieving high standards, that there is some accountability, and that it is connected to an assessment," said Tom Fagan, the director of the Goals 2000 program.

Districts must apply by July 15 in order to be eligible for funding in the current school year.

In addition to a description of efforts to boost student performance, district applications will be judged by a list of criteria the department weighs in making grants under all programs without regulations.

The criteria include community involvement in a school-improvement plan; how the plan will be managed and the quality of the key personnel; the budget for implementing the plan and the district's own financial commitment; and how progress is evaluated.

State Issues

Congress approved an appropriations bill last month for fiscal 1996 that made numerous changes in the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, including one that allows districts in nonparticipating states to apply directly for grants. (See Education Week, May 1, 1996.)

The new law also made other changes in the program designed to allay the fears of critics who argued that it gave federal officials too much authority over state and local decisions.

Federal officials asked the five nonparticipating states to decide by May 17 whether the changes had enticed them to participate or to allow their school districts to participate on their own.

In letters to Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, officials in Montana and Oklahoma indicated that they would allow districts to apply. Officials in Alabama, Virginia, and New Hampshire asked for more time to decide.

The money set aside for nonparticipating states in fiscal 1995 was not reallocated. According to the Federal Register notice, districts in Montana and Oklahoma can divide $1.6 million and $4.4 million, respectively.

In the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, continuation grants will be made to all successful district applicants. New competitions will be held in fiscal 1997.

Federal education officials estimate that districts' awards will range from $20,000 to $100,000 annually and that there will be 39 awards made to Montana districts and 110 to Oklahoma districts.

"Everybody's anxious to get the information and start applying," said Kay Floyd, the director of government relations for the Oklahoma State School Boards Association.

Extensions Granted

In states where participation remains a contentious issue, there is some dispute over which state officials can decide whether to approve local applications. The law refers to the "state education agency," but state school boards appear to be taking a leading role.

In New Hampshire, Republican Gov. Stephen Merrill, an opponent of Goals 2000, recently vetoed a bill that would have compelled the state to participate. (See Education Week, May 22, 1996.)

Elizabeth M. Twomey, the state's commissioner of education, would like her state to participate and favors allowing districts to apply. She said the legislature may vote this week on overriding Mr. Merrill's veto. If the override fails, she said, the state board may consider the district-bypass option.

Late last week, the Virginia board of education adopted a resolution stating that it is "unwilling to approve state or local participation in Goals 2000" unless federal officials provide a written statement that Virginia's Goals 2000 money could be used exclusively for computers and software.

In Alabama, Gov. Fob James Jr., a Republican, opposes Goals 2000, but state Superintendent Ed Richardson would like to participate. The state board plans to vote on the issue June 13.

Vol. 15, Issue 36

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