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Alexander Favors Extending School Day, School Year

April 21, 1991

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Education Secretary Lamar Alexander said Sunday he favors extending the school day and school year by making it optional and charging parents for the extra instruction.

That’s how it works in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where seven public elementary schools offer extra classes in the afternoons and the summer, he said.

″About half the parents pay for their children to go,″ the former Tennessee governor said on ABC-TV’s ″This Week with David Brinkley.″ ″They voluntarily choose that.″

American students attend classes only 180 days a year, fewer than most other industrialized countries.

Alexander offered his let-the-parents-pay idea as a solution to the problem of how to pay for a longer school year.

″I would like to see school districts open their schools in the afternoon, open them in the summer and invite parents to send their children there,″ he said. ″Let people get accustomed to it.

″The parents ... choose it and pay for it,″ he said.

Alexander defended the emphasis on parental choice in President Bush’s new education strategy. Poor schools should be forced to close if they can’t attract students, he said.

Bush on Thursday unveiled his strategy for a ″revolution″ in American schooling, including giving parents more choice of schools.

Bush and Alexander want to allow federal dollars to follow poor children to whatever school they choose - public, parochial or private - and they urged state and local authorities to allow the same flexibility with their school dollars.

That’s how federal aid for college is handled, Alexander said, denying it would impede racial integration.

But private schools that accept students getting public money will have to ″be publicly accountable″ to civil rights and other laws, he said.

The Supreme Court a few years ago made it harder for parochial schools to use federal remedial dollars to teach poor youngsters. Such classes now must be held in trailers outside the regular school building.

Alexander said education accrediting agencies should not try to prescribe a certain racial or gender mix to colleges and universities. He has withheld renewal of the license of the Middle States accrediting association, which had faulted the faculty-hiring records at some institutions.

″I think the accrediting agencies ought to concern themselves with the quality of our colleges and universities, and they ought not be going around establishing some proper mix of gender or race,″ he said.

Alexander said ″the diversity of America will have to be thought about″ in creating a new, voluntary system of national exams. But he predicted a consensus will be reached on what should be taught and tested.

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