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House Panel Is Urged To Continue To Promote Sex Equity in Vocational-Education Programs

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Washington--The federal government should continue its involvement in promoting sexual equality in vocational-education programs, and it should also make some revisions in the the current system of collecting statistics on vocational education, according to a number of witnesses testifying this month at Congressional subcommittee hearings on the reauthorization of the Vocational Education Act.

The hearings were conducted by the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education to collect testimony on two issues: sex equity and the Vocational Education Data System, a nationwide computer data base used to collect and disseminate information on vocational programs.

During sessions held last week, witnesses agreed that the employment status of women has improved, if only marginally, as a result of the sex-equity provision of the 1976 amendments to the Vocational Education Act. And they urged that the provision be strengthened in future federal legislation.

The sex-equity provision "must be continued," Virginia A. Foxx of the National Advisory Council on Women's Educational Programs told the House subcommittee last week. She noted that 46 percent of all students enrolled in vocational education programs are women.

"Progress has been made, but the goal is far from being achieved, and the council is not convinced that progress will continue at the same pace if the federal focus on sex equity is dropped or severely curtailed," Ms. Foxx said.

Janet Wells of the Federal Education Project of the Lawyers' Com3mittee for Civil Rights Under Law criticized current deregulation efforts by the Education Department's Office of Vocational and Adult Education. She accused the Reagan Administration of trying to "subvert" Congressional intent and to change the law through regulatory revision.

"Secretary of Education [Terrel H.] Bell has admonished us several times to 'trust' the federal government and the state governments to do the right thing with regard to assuring equal access to education," Ms. Wells said, "even if civil-rights enforcement is curtailed and education programs designed to provide equal opportunities are reduced to block grants."

'National Objectives'

She said the states would prefer that federal law not require them to address "national objectives" or provide "equal access and opportunity for women, the disadvantaged, and the handicapped."

The Education Department's "costly" Vocational Education Data System (veds) was the subject of another hearing held earlier this month before the House education subcommittee.

An official from the Education Department reported that veds, mandated in the 1976 amendments as the means of collecting statistics on vocational education programs, teachers, students, and program expenditures from the states, has "a variety of problems," some of which have already been addressed by the department.

Donald J. Senese, ed's assistant secretary for educational research and improvement, said the "cost and burden" of veds has been a major complaint of state officials. He said the National Center for Education Statistics, which operates veds, has spent approximately $5 million in salaries, grants to the states, and operational expenses, since 1976 when it was instituted.

Mr. Senese said some states have not been able to comply fully with legal requirements of furnishing statistical data. Where full compliance was not possible, state officials have had to submit "remediation plans" outlining "how they would come into full compliance within a reasonable period of time."

Without this grace period, he said, about two-thirds of the respondents would have had vocational-education funds withheld during the 1978-79 school year.

Mr. Senese said that state officials were notified last month that several areas of the data-collection system that have been identified as "burdensome" or "least reliable" have been suspended for this school year. Those areas include collection of data on: teachers and staff, "employer follow-up," students who do not complete a program, and enrollment and finance.

James L. Harris, director of the Colorado State Occupational Information Coordinating Committee, said a data-collection system should continue at the federal level. However, he said, the system should clearly identify its goals and objectives and provide the means for achieving those goals.

A draft reauthorization proposal, prepared by the ed's Office of Vocational and Adult Education in August, recommends that veds be eliminated from future legislation. The proposal, which has not been approved by Secretary Bell, does not offer an alternative systen for gathering national vocational-education statistics.

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