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Bell, House Education Panel Debate Vocational-Ed. Change

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Washington--Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell appeared before a House education panel last week to urge legislators to enact the Reagan Administration's proposal to consolidate existing federal vocational- and adult-education programs into a new state block-grant program.

But Democrats on the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education gave no indication that they would embrace the President's proposal, which they rejected last year. Instead, the panel's majority members are likely to act on another proposal that would indefinitely reauthorize the existing Vocational Education Act of 1963, according to subcommittee staff members.

In addition to folding existing programs into new block grants to states, the Administration has said its proposal would also "simplify and reduce administrative burdens" on state and local school officials through the elimination of many regulations and funding "set-asides.''

Critics of the proposal, on the other hand, have alleged that the proposed federal "deregulation" of vocational and adult education would lead to widespread discrimination against women and handicapped individuals in these programs.

The critics have also attacked the Administration's plan to fund vocational- and adult-education programs in the fiscal year 1984 at just under $500 million, a decrease from $823.6 million in the current fiscal year.

Secretary Bell, in defending the proposal, said combining vocational- and adult-education programs "makes sense because we know that adult illiterates need a very definite motivation, a practical goal" such as the learning of a trade or new job skill.

"Adult illiterates were turned off at some point by their academic experience," he said.

"They need the opportunity to be turned back on, so to speak. We think that there is a solid rationale for bringing these two pieces of legislation together."

The Secretary added that the proposed reduction in funding for the two programs next year is necessary to help balance the federal government's budget.

"We are struggling with an enormous deficit," Mr. Bell said. "When I put the department's budget together, I had only so much money to work with and I had to look at other needs."

He added that the proposed budget reductions will be offset by provisions in the Job Training Partnership Act that call for the participation of schools and community colleges in offering training assistance to unemployed workers. Furthermore, he said, the Administration's proposal to "significantly" increase funding for the federal college work-study program "will provide many people with on-the-job work experience."

Representative John N. Erlenborn, Republican of Illinois and primary sponsor of the Administration's bill in the House, warned Secretary Bell during last week's hearing that the Congress and the President may be headed for another showdown over the right of the Congress to review and to veto federal-education regulations.

The Administration version of the bill, HR 2940, did not include a provision guaranteeing the Congress's right to conduct such reviews of regulations promulgated under the proposed act, he said. Members of the subcommittee, before officially introducing the bill in the House, added such a provision.

"That has not gone unnoticed by us," Secretary Bell said. "We are still huddling to see what to do about that. You really have put me on spot with that addition."

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