Orange Co. Schools Claim Right to Federal Dollars

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Local school officials in Orange County, Calif., are staking their claim to federal and state education funds, citing fears that conservatives on the county school board could strip them of desperately needed money.

Local boards in six Orange County districts have passed resolutions in recent weeks that ask the five-member county board to recognize their right to accept federal funding for programs such as the Goals 2000 school reform program and vocational education--programs that have been assailed recently by conservative members of the county school board.

Nationwide, conservatives have raised concerns that federal funding for school reform and a new national testing initiative signal a federal encroachment into areas traditionally controlled by local school officials. In Orange County, two members of the elected county school board advocate a back-to-basics academics approach and have launched a campaign against accepting federal aid for some programs.

In California, county school boards are responsible for disbursing state and federal funds to the local districts and for setting the countywide education budget.

If a county board were to reject federal or state funding for a certain program, and the local school boards still wanted the money, the county superintendent would be charged with finding another conduit to flow money through, said John F. Dean, Orange County's superintendent. "If they want the money, we'll find a way to get it to them," Mr. Dean said.

Nevertheless, the board of the 2,500-student Laguna Beach school district became the latest to claim its entitlement to federal and state dollars when it passed a unanimous resolution on the subject June 10. The board acted out of fear that the county board would strip it of federal funding for school-to-work programs, according to Susan H. Mas, the president of the Laguna Beach school board. While that has not been an issue in the past, the two conservative board members have recently expressed opposition to accepting federal funds and money for Vision 2020, a state technology-training program, she said.

Checks and Balances

One of the county board members, Ken L. Williams, said he feels obligated to resist taking federal money for programs that county board members feel have not proved worthwhile. He argued that school-to-work programs have discriminated against minority students, who are frequently in such programs, and students who score poorly on assessments by "dumbing down" their basic academic skills.

A rejection of federal funding for school-to-work efforts would be "part of the checks and balances of local government," he said. But he added that he does not feel he has the support of the majority of other county board members to pass such a proposal.

Federal school-to-work funds provide essential training for students who choose vocational occupations, said Laguna Beach school board member Kathryn A. Turner, who is also a dean at Long Beach City College. In many programs, such as those related to engineering, higher academic skills are a necessity, she said.

In addition, Ms. Mas said, the training is needed for students to find employment with many of the industries located in Southern California.

Laguna Beach board members have sent their version of the resolution to all of the county's 28 local school boards, and Ms. Mas said she expected others to adopt similar language in coming weeks.

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