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Law Would Merge Vocational, Adult Programs

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Washington--Existing federal vocational and adult education activities would be consolidated into "national programs" and block grants to the states if a U.S. Department of Education proposal is accepted by the Congress.

A draft of the proposed legislation has been submitted to the Office of Management and Budget for approval.

Designated the "Vocational and Adult Education Consolidation Act," the proposal would repeal the Adult Education Act and the Vocational Education Act of 1963--which do not expire until 1984--and authorize new programs through 1987.

Consistent with the Reagan Administration's 1983 budget request for a lump sum of $500 million to fund all adult and vocational education, the proposed legislation consolidates eight federal vocational-education programs and three adult-education programs into the combined state and national program.

The purpose of the Act is to "promote economic development" by strengthening vocational-education programs so that they are responsive to the needs of the economy and by making them accessible to students of all ages and educational needs.

The state and national activities link the vocational-training programs to employment and workforce needs of individual states and encourage collaboration with industry, business, labor, education, and other groups.

The draft legislation differs in several significant ways from a proposal to rewrite the vocational education act that circulated late last summer (see Education Week, Sept., 14), and represents a dramatic departure from current federal provisions for vocational education.

Under the proposal, 10 percent of the annual total appropriation for the consolidation act would be reserved for national activities that are to be funded at the discretion of the Secretary of Education. (The legislation does not presuppose the dismantling of the Education Department.) The activities include:

A National Center for Research in Vocational and Adult Education;

Programs for Indian tribes and organizations to promote vocational education "consistent with tribal economic development plans";

Programs that address the needs of students with limited proficiency in English;

An occupational-information data system; and

Support for studies, projects, and programs that address the national need for skilled workers.

The proposal mandates a program of support for special projects that would "address critical shortages of skilled manpower which the nation requires." It authorizes a separate amount of money for this program.

Under the draft proposal, states "are to be afforded broad discretionary authority in planning, developing, administering, and operating" their programs. Allotments to the states would be computed according to formulas based on per capita income, levels of unemployment, and the size of the population in age groups within the 15-to-64 age range. Notwithstanding their discretionary power, states would be required to:

Spend 30 percent of the state allotment on activities to foster "economic development and skilled workforce training," such as training programs to attract new industry;

Spend 30 percent to strengthen "state and local systems of vocational education so that all persons (including educationally disadvantaged persons, handicapped persons, and persons with limited English proficiency) can participate" in programs designed to provide job skills and foster economic development. (This provision emphasizes young people who are not in school and live in economically depressed areas.);

Spend 16 percent to expand adult-educational opportunities that foster basic skills and the completion of secondary school.

The legislation would also establish a Presidentially appointed National Advisory Council on Vocational and Adult Education--a change from last summer's proposal--with a separately authorized budget. The majority of members of the council must be persons outside the field of education.

Unlike the Vocational Education Act of 1963--one of the main purposes of which is to reduce sex discrimination and bias in vocational programs--the current proposal makes no reference to sex equity, and there are no funds earmarked, as they are now, for this purpose or for handicapped and disadvantaged students or for consumer and homemaking education.

The draft legislation's administrative requirements and provisions for federal oversight are also drastically reduced in comparison with the current requirements of the vocational-education law.

The current regulations, however, are also undergoing extensive revision separately (see related story beginning on page 1), and a new regulations package under the current law could take effect before Congress approves or rejects the proposed new law.

The Administration's budget documents suggest that the new legislation will be submitted to Congress within the next month. If Congress were to approve it quickly, without change (which observers say is unlikely), the law would take effect July 1, 1982.

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