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Draft Vocational-Education Proposal Stresses Economic Revitalization

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The U.S. Department of Education is considering major changes in its vocational-education programs that would give increased authority to the states and would address the nation's need for "economic revitalization."

A draft proposal, prepared for the 1982 reauthorization by Congress of the federal Vocational Education Act, is awaiting the approval of Secretary Terrel H. Bell. It recommends revising the current act to authorize funding to states through block grants, and proposes to add new support services aimed at helping to solve national problems.

In addition to the authorization proposal, the department has established three task forces to study ways vocational education can prepare students to work in a revitalized defense industry; develop cooperative programs with the private sector; and encourage the growth of small businesses, particularly those that are owned by or that employ minorities.

Block Grants Proposed

Under Title I of the reauthorization proposal, the present grant program to states would be replaced with block grants which could be used for 30 different programs.

The state legislatures would have authority to designate the administering agencies. That is a departure from the existing language, which designates the "state board" as the only administering agency.

The use of federal funds would be restricted to new programs and to the improvement and expansion of existing programs. Priority would be given, under the new proposal, to the handicapped and disadvantaged; to out-of-school youths and adults; to those with limited proficiency in English; and to residents of economically depressed areas.

Notable in the new proposal is the absence of strict federal regulatory controls. States would be required to submit yearly progress reports on three-year plans, instead of having to file, as they now do, annual accountability reports and updates on five-year plans.

Few Requirements

The only restriction suggested in the new proposal is that a minimum of 60 percent of the programs, services, and activities supported with federal vocational-education funds be devoted to certain target groups: at least 20 percent to high-school students, including potential dropouts enrolled in vocational-education programs; at least 20 percent to out-of-school, unemployed youths and adults in economically depressed urban and rural areas; and at least 20 percent to students in postsecondary and adult vocational-education programs.

The National Advisory Council on Vocational Education would be abolished under the reauthorization plan, but states could establish advisory councils if they wished. The proposal does recommend, however, that the federal government support a national research center in vocational education.

The second section of the plan, Title II, calls for the creation of a National Economic and Skilled Workforce Development Program to "reshape vocational education along the lines of President Reagan's policy to revitalize the economy."

Up to 15 percent of the funds for Title II could be reserved by the Education Secretary for special projects in states with severe economic needs; up to 2 percent could be reserved for national needs studies and coordination activities, according to the draft.

Grants would be competitive and limited to states with "severe eco0

nomic needs" in areas such as training necessary to revitalize existing business and industry; quick start-up and work training for new business and industry; and instructional development for newly emerging, rapidly changing, and high-demand occupations.

The formula for dividing federal vocational-education funds among the states is not spelled out in the proposal. But grants to states could be computed, the draft suggests, by using "age cohorts adjusted by per-capita income and possible unemployment measure."

The federal agency would retain 5 percent for programs of "national significance," 1 percent for Indians, and a 1-percent reserve for a ''national occupational information coordinating committee."

Federal 'Stimulus'

Elaborating on the plan's stated goal of preparing a skilled work force, Robert M. Worthington, assistant secretary for vocational and adult education, said education officials have in mind such economic-revitalization programs as the "urban enterprise zones" in low-income areas advocated by the President.

The funds recommended in the proposal could be used for "training for critical manpower shortages" in fields such as the defense industry, which Mr. Reagan plans to strengthen, Mr. Worthington added.

"We want to see that vocational education makes a contribution to economic development in urban areas," Mr. Worthington said. "We would want to be ready to train people in economic target zones."

The "economic revitalization" program--the proposed Title II--lays the foundation for what Mr. Worthington views as the proper missions of the vocational-education office: research and development, dissemination of information, and technical assistance. The plan recommends federal support for "activities that promote economic development and ensure adequate supplies of skilled workers and technicians in major national problem areas."

If the plan is enacted, Mr. Worthington said, vocational education would be primarily a state and local program, stimulated by federal money. He said every dollar contributed by the federal government generates up to $12 from state and local governments.

Earlier vocational-education acts were more "prescriptive" than the new proposal, dictating how the states should spend their money, Mr. Worthington added.

The Condition of Vocational Education, a comprehensive study prepared by the National Center for Education Statistics, reports that the federal contribution has been declining as a share of total national expenditures in the field of vocational education.

Federal expenditures provided 17.5 percent of the total in fiscal year 1972 and only 9.9 percent in fiscal year 1979, the report says.

The new proposal gives no indication that the Reagan Administration intends to reverse that trend.

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