Governors Press for Funding Freedom in Washington

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Governors both Republican and Democrat brought their states' education agendas to the winter meeting of the National Governors' Association here last week, sharing plans for early-childhood education, child care, and school reform while reiterating a common plea for no-strings-attached support from Washington.

Led by Ohio's Republican Gov. George V. Voinovich and Delaware's Democratic Gov. Thomas R. Carper, the chairman and the vice chairman of the NGA, the governors urged President Clinton "to think more like a governor" when considering the impact that federal laws and regulations have on states.

Policy Engines

"Governors and their states have become engines of policy innovation in America," Gov. Voinovich said in an opening statement. "The question of whether we draw the wisdom of the nation's founders and work to further the strengths of devolution is a monumental test of our nation's values."

Congress is poised to consider a number of education policy issues this session, including legislation on early-childhood education, vocational education, charter schools, block grants, and the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act.

In the midst of efforts to avert a confrontation with Iraq, President Clinton spoke briefly to the group last week, restating the goals he outlined in his January State of the Union speech, including improving access to higher education, ending so-called social promotions of students, reducing class sizes by hiring more teachers, and launching a national testing effort.

"I think it is important that we say, whether we use national tests that are somehow evaluated by a national standard or state tests that are evaluated by a national standard, that we do believe that learning the basics is the same in every state in America, and we want to raise the standards in every state in America," Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton also announced Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley's appointment of Michigan Gov. John Engler to the Republican governor's seat on the National Assessment Governing Board, the 25-member bipartisan board that has been given authority over the president's controversial proposal for voluntary national tests in 4th grade reading and 8th grade math.

Gov. Engler was the first GOP governor to sign up for the national tests, but his support has since waned. (" Senate OKs Reworked Testing Plan," Sept. 17, 1997.)

Still, in a statement, the U.S. Department of Education said Gov. Engler "has been hailed as a leader in education and testing initiatives. He has fought for higher standards, better assessments, local control, interdistrict school choice, and a charter schools law."

Also on the testing front, Republican Gov. Terry E. Branstad of Iowa visited Capitol Hill last week to discuss national testing with the House Education and the Workforce Committee. Gov. Branstad's state is the only one that does not mandate student assessments and does not have statewide academic standards.

Mr. Clinton also said he will ask Congress to expand the "ed-flex" initiative, currently a 12-state pilot program established by the Goals 2000: Educate America Act that frees state and local schools from certain federal funding rules in exchange for their agreement to boost accountability measures.

Block Grants

The governors asked that Washington work to consolidate 600 federal grant programs, totaling $75 billion a year, into 12 more streamlined block grants in a range of areas, including education. The governors say such a move would make state spending more efficient and cost-effective.

Specific to education, they asked Congress to streamline funding for adult education, vocational education, job training, and veterans' programs into a single block grant, which they say would give them more latitude in deciding where to direct funds.

A bill now moving through the U.S. House would consolidate some 60 employment and training programs into three block grants; a separate House measure would reauthorize the current vocational education law. A separate bill in the U.S. Senate would merge job-training and vocational education programs, but keep funding for vocational education separate.

But the governors said in a Feb. 22 statement that piecemeal consolidation is not what they are after. Instead, they urged Congress to enact "comprehensive reform" on the job-training bills or do nothing at all.

The governors also asked Congress to ease off on the issue of barring an Internet sales tax. A congressional proposal that seeks to ban taxation of Internet services for five years would undercut the sales-tax revenues upon which state budgets, including education budgets, depend, the governors said.

#F1-CAP1 President Clinton addressed the National Governors' Association last week and announced that Michigan Gov. John Engler would be appointed to the National Assessment Governing Board.

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