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State, Local Officials Seek 'Flexibility' in Vocational Education

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Washington--The Senate education subcommittee, which is considering legislation to reauthorize the federal vocational-education program, last week heard from state and local officials who asked for changes in the program's legislation.

Although the legislators, state board members, and school officials expressed various priorities, each group requested that the subcommittee, chaired by Robert T. Stafford, Republican of Vermont, amend the current statute to increase the states' flexibility in spending the federal funds.

The $728-million federal program, funded under the Vocational Education Act of 1963, currently includes eight separate sub-programs, for which individual amounts are earmarked by the Congress.

The Reagan Administration last year proposed consolidating all of those programs, along with the $95-million adult-education program, into a single system of block grants to the states. The proposal was repeated in the President's fiscal 1984 budget last month, along with a request that funding for the two programs be reduced by 40 percent.

The new structure, if it is accepted by the Congress, would be "turned back" to the states as part of the President's "new federalism" plan--which was also outlined in the fiscal 1984 budget.

At last week's hearing, Joanne T. Goldsmith, president of the National Association of State Boards of Education, opposed the President's consolidation and budget-reduction proposals. She asked instead that the current programs be "strengthened." She cited surveys by the Bu-reau of Labor Statistics that she said showed "the largest number of new workers needed" will include secretaries, nurses' aides, orderlies, auto mechanics, blue-collar supervisors, and carpenters.

"Therefore, while we need large percentage increases in scientists and engineers, we have an equally pressing need to increase total numbers of workers that are in the province of vocational education," she said.

Ms. Goldsmith also asked for "cooperation between the vocational-education system and private-sector employers to encourage the use of employers' technology on the work premises. In this way, the vocational-education system can provide training and hands-on experience with the latest technology used in industry, a feat not possible within the context of a school building," she said.

'Sole State Agency'

The state-boards president and a spokesman for the Council of Chief State School Officers testified that they would prefer to maintain the current governing structure for vocational programs. Current law requires that a "sole state agency" administer the program, and in most states that agency is the state board of education.

"In order to have an effective and efficient federal program, the federal government must deal principally with one agency in each state,'' said Franklin B. Walter, Ohio's superintendent of public instruction.

But that provision was opposed by a representative of the National Conference of State Legislatures and representatives for higher-education groups.

The legislatures' spokesman, State Representative Wilhelmina Delco of Texas, asked that legislatures be permitted "to assume responsibility for policy development and oversight."

The higher-education groups asked for discretion in each state so that community and four-year colleges could participate more fully in federal vocational programs, which they said are now concentrated on the precollegiate level.

Several of those testifying also requested changes in the current program's requirement that specific percentages of each state's allotment be spent to serve minorities, women, and disadvantaged students.

Mr. Walter of Ohio asked that the statute be amended to require only that a "total proportion" of each state's funds be spent on the "underserved" and to permit states to determine how to allocate the funds among each group.

Speaking for the council, Mr. Walter also said the organization supported consolidating the current categorical programs, although he did not specifically endorse the Administration's approach.

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