Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb urged a sympathetic congressional task force yesterday to give state governments "a strong voice" and a free hand in allocating funds for education.
"We are fully willing to be held accountable for funds and goals," Robb told the House Budget Committee's task force on education and employment, provided the federal government loosens the "strings attached" to block grants. "Congress should target programs," but leave the methods to the states, Robb said.
Robb, who testified on behalf of the National Governors' Association, found an audience receptive to his argument that the states should have the authority to set and maintain standards for public education.
"What I hear from a lot of my constituents," said Rep. Michael E. Lowery (D-Wash.), "is that the one place the New Federalism makes sense is in shifting total reponsibility for the schools to state governments, and turning over Medicaid" and other federal-state partnerships to the U.S. government.
"We can do business," Robb responded heartily. "That's a grooved pitch for any governor."
Robb told the task force, headed by Rep. Pat Williams (D-Okla.), that the first step in attracting and keeping better public school teachers is improving their pay. "We have to compensate teachers fairly and . . . competitively," Robb said, as he described his legislative proposal to raise teacher salaries in Virginia 10 percent each year during the four years of his administration.
However, in many local jurisdictions, including Northern Virginia, teachers have complained that those 10 percent increases earmarked by the General Assembly for teacher salaries have been trimmed by local authorities who say they needed to spend the added state aid elsewhere.
"We're looking into that," Robb said after the hearings. "Philosophically, I'd like to see the states take an increasing role in setting teacher salaries. Just personally, I'd like to see teachers become state employees, not local, and the state could guarantee their salaries."
Robb said, however, he has no plans to initiate such a proposal in Virginia.
Robb told task force members he had not yet read Wednesday's Supreme Court decision ruling that tuition tax credits for private and parochial schools are not unconstitutional. "Whether or not they're legal, tuition tax credits are bad public policy that will erode the public school system even further."
Robb also testified that he is sponsoring a pilot program to fund a combination master teacher/performance pay program in Virginia, although he declined to go into "the nitty-gritty" of describing how merit pay would be awarded.
Robb also refused to estimate how much federal money would be necessary to improve public education. "I see Sen. John Glenn D-Ohio is the low bidder" proposing $4 billion, Robb said, but "I don't want to play that numbers game."