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Joint Statement on the Education Summit With the Nation's Governors in Charlottesville, Virginia

September 28, 1989

The President and the nation's Governors agree that a better educated citizenry is the key to the continued growth and prosperity of the United States. Education has historically been, and should remain, a state responsibility and a local function, which works best when there is also strong parental involvement in the schools. And, as [a] Nation we must have an educated workforce, second to none, in order to succeed in an increasingly competitive world economy.

Education has always been important, but never this important because the stakes have changed: Our competitors for opportunity are also working to educate their people. As they continue to improve, they make the future a moving target. We believe that the time has come, for the first time in U.S. history, to establish clear, national performance goals, goals that will make us internationally competitive.

The President and the nation's Governors have agreed at this summit to:

-- establish a process for setting national educational goals;

-- to seek greater flexibility and enhanced accountability in the use of Federal resources to meet the goals, through both regulatory and legislative changes;

-- to undertake a major state-by-state effort to restructure our education system; and

-- to report annually on progress in achieving our goals.

This agreement represents the first step in a long-term commitment to reorient the education system and to marshal widespread support for the needed reforms.

National Education Goals

The first step in restructuring our education system is to build a broad-based consensus around a defined set of national education goals. The National Governors' Association Task Force on Education will work with the President's designees to recommend goals to the President and the Nation's Governors. The process to develop the goals will involve teachers, parents, local school administrators, school board members, elected officials, business and labor communities, and the public at large. The overriding objective is to develop an ambitious, realistic set of performance goals that reflect the views of those with a stake in the performance of our education system. To succeed we need a common understanding and a common mission. National goals will allow us to plan effectively, to set priorities, and to establish clear lines of accountability and authority. These goals will lead to the development of detailed strategies that will allow us to meet these objectives.

The process for establishing these goals should be completed and the goals announced in early 1990.

By performance we mean goals that will, if achieved, guarantee that we are internationally competitive, such as goals related to:

-- the readiness of children to start school;

-- the performance of students on international achievement tests, especially in math and science;

-- the reduction of the dropout rate and the improvement of academic performance, especially among at-risk students;

-- the functional literacy of adult Americans;

-- the level of training necessary to guarantee a competitive workforce;

-- the supply of qualified teachers and up-to-date technology; and

-- the establishment of safe, disciplined, and drug-free schools.

The Federal/State Partnership

Flexibility and Accountability

The President and the Governors are committed to achieving the maximum return possible from our investments in the Nation's education system. We define maximum return as the following: significant and sustained educational improvement for all children. Nothing less will meet the Nation's needs for a strong, competitive workforce; nothing less will meet our children's needs for successful citizenship and economic opportunity.

Federal funds, which represent only a small part of total education spending, are directed particularly toward services for young people most at risk. Federal laws and regulations control where and for whom states and localities spend this money. State and local laws and regulations control what is taught, and how, for all students.

At present, neither Federal nor State and local laws and regulations focus sufficiently on results, or on real educational improvement for all children. Federal and State executives need authority to waive statutory and regulatory provisions in return for greater accountability for results.

The President and the Governors have agreed:

-- to examine Federal regulations under current law and to move in the direction of greater flexibility;

-- to take parallel steps in each state with respect to State laws and administrative rules.

-- to submit legislation to Congress early next year that would provide State and local recipients greater flexibility in the use of Federal funds, in return for firm commitments to improved levels of education and skill training.

The President and the Governors have agreed to establish a working group of Governors and the President's designees to begin work immediately to accomplish these tasks.

We know that other voices need to be heard in this discussion -- voices of educators, parents, and those whose primary interest is the protection of the disadvantaged, minorities, and the handicapped. We need to work with the Congress. The processes we will set up immediately following this conference will involve all parties.

The urgent need for flexibility in using Federal funds can best be illustrated by a few examples.

First, the Federal Vocational Education Act, which mandates specific set-asides that often result in individual awards that are too small to be meaningful and that prohibit the money from being spent to achieve its purpose. One state reported being required to divide $300,000 in aid among far too many categories and set-asides.

Second, similarly, the Chapter 1 program requires that equipment purchased to provide remedial education services cannot be used for non-Chapter 1 institutions in areas such as adult education. Several States report that large numbers of computers purchased by Federal funds are idle at night, while adult education classes that need them either do without or use scarce tax dollars to buy other equipment.

Third, the requirements that children who benefit from Federal funds for compensatory and special education be taught separately often undermines their achievement. Waivers that permit these students to return to regular classes and receive extra help have produced large increases in their test scores. This option should be available for all school districts.

These commitments are historic steps toward ensuring that young people with the greatest needs receive the best our schools and training programs can give them, and that all children reach their highest educational potential.

In a phrase, we want to swap redtape for results.

The Federal Government's Financial Role

State and local Governments provide more than 90 percent of education funding. They should continue to bear that lion's share of the load. The Federal financial role is limited and has even declined, but it is still important. That role is:

-- to promote National education equity by helping our poor children get off to a good start in school, giving disadvantaged and handicapped children extra help to assist them in their school years, ensuring accessibility to a college education, and preparing the workforce for jobs;

-- and second, to provide research and development for programs that work, good information on the real performance of students, schools, and states, and assistance in replicating successful state and local initiatives all across the United States;

We understand the limits imposed on new spending by the Federal deficit and the budget process. However, we urge that priority for any further funding increases be given to prepare young children to succeed in school. This is consistent with the President's recommendation for an increase in the number of children served by Head Start in this year's budget. If we are ever to develop a system that ensures that our children are healthy and succeed in school, the Federal Government will have to play a leading role.

Further, we urge that the Congress not impose new Federal mandates that are unrelated to children, but that require States to spend state tax money that could otherwise go to education.

Commitment to Restructuring

Virtually every State has substantially increased its investment in education, increased standards, and improved learning. Real gains have occurred. However, we still have a long way to go. We must make dramatic improvements in our education system. This cannot be done without a genuine, National, Bipartisan commitment to excellence and without a willingness to dramatically alter our system of education.

The President and the Nation's Governors agree that significant steps must be taken to restructure education in all states. We share the view that simply more of the same will not achieve the results we need. We must find ways to deploy the resources we commit to education more effectively.

A similar process has been going on in American manufacturing industry over the last decade with astonishing results: An increase in productivity of nearly 4 percent a year.

There are many promising new ideas and strategies for restructuring education. These include greater choice for parents and students, greater authority and accountability for teachers and principals, alternative certification programs for teachers, and programs that systematically reward excellence and performance. Most successful restructuring efforts seem to have certain common characteristics:

-- a system of accountability that focuses on results, rather than on compliance with rules and regulations;

-- decentralization of authority and decision-making responsibility to the school site, so that educators are empowered to determine the means for achieving the goals and to be held accountable for accomplishing them;

-- a rigorous program of instruction designed to ensure that every child can acquire the knowledge and skills required in an economy in which our citizens must be able to think for a living;

-- an education system that develops first-rate teachers and creates a professional environment that provides real rewards for success with students, real consequences for failure, and the tools and flexibility required to get the job done; and

-- active, sustained parental and business community involvement.

Restructuring efforts are now underway in many states. The Nation's Governors are committed to a major restructuring effort in every state. The Governors will give this task high priority and will report on their programs in one year.

Assuring Accountability

As elected chief executives, we expect to be held accountable for progress in meeting the new additional goals and we expect to hold others accountable as well.

When goals are set and strategies for achieving them are adopted, we must establish clear measures of performance and then issue annual Report Cards on the progress of students, schools, the states, and the Federal Government.

Over the last few days we have humbly walked in the footsteps of Thomas Jefferson. We have started down a promising path. We have entered into a compact -- a Jeffersonian compact to enlighten our children and the children of generations to come.

The time for rhetoric is past; the time for performance is now.

Note: The statement was not released by the Office of the Press Secretary.

George Bush, Joint Statement on the Education Summit With the Nation's Governors in Charlottesville, Virginia Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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