Governors Say Old Ways Failing Federal Government Urged to Get out of the Way of State Action in Jobs, Education, Welfare

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TO hear the nation's governors tell it, the states are the ideal laboratories for experimental reforms in everything from welfare to education to job training. And intrusive regulations from Congress, which rarely sends along money to implement its mandates, hold the states back.

"Every time state and local governments get creative, they have to stand in line and petition Congress and the executive branch for permission to solve the problem," said Minnesota Gov. Arne Carlson (R). "It's a silly system.... If Congress can't send cash, then {it should} at least send permission."

That theme emerged often, usually to shared laughter, at the three-day 84th annual meeting of the National Governors' Association (NGA) here, which ended Aug. 4.

As C-Span television cameras operated nonstop and New Jersey state troopers kept a tight security watch at every hallway corner, more than 40 of the nation's governors swapped stories about programs that work in their own states and listened to a variety of top federal and business experts.

The need for change was a steady message. "We're saying the old approaches don't work," said New Jersey Gov. James Florio (D), the host.

"There's got to be a lot more experimentation to see what does work," said Ohio Gov. George Voinovich (R).

Education reform, and how it can strengthen the United States' competitive position, was at the top of the NGA agenda. Much discussion focused on how states are trying to meet the six ambitious goals for the year 2000 that the governors and President Bush embraced in 1990. These include marking a 90 percent improvement in high school graduation rates in the '90s and making every child school-ready through better preschool, health, and social-service programs.

Outgoing NGA chairman John Ashcroft (R), governor of Missouri, said states are struggling to alter structures that reinforce the status quo, but added that "a new education system is emerging." Job training pushed

New training and apprenticeship programs drew strong endorsements from both US Education Secretary Lamar Alexander and US Assistant Labor Secretary Roberts Jones. Many who drop out of school to take a job see the work as a step up. "It's tragic that they often don't realize that's the end of it," said Mr. Jones, referring both to skills-building and schooling received. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson (R), noting that three-fourths of those who will be working in the year 2000 are already employed, also stresses the need for a swift upgrading of education and training beyond high school.

States want to shake federal regulation. South Dakota Gov. George Mickelson (R) said the 24 programs in his state labor department rate such a small amount of federal money that "we don't do a really good job with any of them. …