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House Panel Votes $1.5 Billion To Reauthorize Vocational Act

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Washington--Members of the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education last week approved a $1.5-billion measure that would reauthorize the current vocational- education act.

A similar reauthorization bill was introduced the next day in the Senate, where members of the Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities have scheduled a mark-up session on March 1. The bill, S2341, was co-sponsored by Senator Robert T. Stafford, Republican of Vermont and chairman of the education subcommittee, and Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island and the panel's ranking minority member, and four others.

The House bill, HR 4164, now moves to the Education and Labor Committee, where action is scheduled for this week.

Compromise Reached

During the House mark-up sessions last week, subcommittee members approved a number of controversial amendments to the vocational-education reauthorization proposal that would restore the funding provisions contained in the basic-grant program of the current law for training programs serving handicapped, disadvantaged students, and other underserved populations.

Democratic members of the House subcommittee led the push for restoring the federal basic-grant set-asides for programs serving handicapped and disadvantaged students. That effort was opposed initially by some Republican representatives, who argued that the bill should focus on state and local improvement and modernization efforts.

The amendments were approved after a compromise had been negotiated by Representative Carl D. Perkins, Democrat of Kentucky and the subcommittee chairman, and Representative William F. Goodling, Republican of Pennsylvania and the ranking minority member. Both lawmakers had expressed concern that failure to resolve differences over the amendments would delay consideration of the bill by the full committee.

Under the amendments to the House bill, 10 percent of the basic-state grant would be assigned to programs serving handicapped students and 20 percent would go to programs that encourage the participation of disadvantaged and limited-English-proficient students.

Another 5 percent of the basic grant would be earmarked for state and local efforts to encourage the participation of men and women in nontraditional training programs and to eliminate sex bias in vocational programs.

The subcommittee also agreed to a set-aside of 15 percent for vocational-technical programs at postsecondary institutions.

Set-Asides Unchanged

The provisions of the revised bill differ significantly from the earlier version that was drafted largely by the American Vocational Association and the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges; the new version leaves the federal role in skill-training programs unchanged from the current law.

The earlier proposal would have allowed the states to use the basic grant for a range of program activities, but its major focus would have been on upgrading existing vocational programs and developing vocational programs in "new technologies." The original proposal also would have provided a greater share of the federal grant for postsecondary programs.

Federal support for underserved groups, such as handicapped, disadvantaged, and women, would have been authorized under a separate section of the proposal. Advocates for handicapped and disadvantaged students had argued, however, that separating out those programs would have made their funding vulnerable. (See Education Week, Feb. 15, 1984.)

The revised bill retains the earlier proposal's request for $1.5 billion for vocational and adult education. But, according to several subcommittee members, that amount will be substantially reduced before any final vote is taken by the full House.

The current authorization level for programs funded under the Vocational Education Act of 1963, which is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30, is about $728 million.

Citing the need to compromise, Representative Perkins said during last week's session that he favored the set-asides for underserved populations but not at the expense of the other program areas. "I want to see us improve this legislation, but I don't see the funds to do all these things," he said.

After approving the compromise amendments, Representative Goodling said, "I only hope that by the time we finish with the bill on the floor and in conference sessions we still will be in touch with the purpose of the bill."

Senate Proposal

The Senate reauthorization proposal, which was introduced last week, calls for spending $900 million in the first year, of which approximately $864 million would be allocated to the basic-grant program to the states. About 4 percent of the funds would be used to support programs of "national significance."

The proposal would allow the states to retain 4 percent of the money for administrative costs, 2 percent to support efforts to eliminate sex bias in vocational programs, 1 percent for guidance and counseling programs, and at least 1 percent for state advisory councils.

The Senate proposal also would establish a "vocational-education- opportunities" program and provide about $533 million in funding for programs that address the needs of special-student populations.

Under this section of the bill, 20 percent of the money would go to skills-training programs that serve handicapped students; 40 percent would be earmarked for programs that include disadvantaged students; 20 percent would be used to support adult-training and retraining programs; 1 percent would go to training programs in penal institutions; and 19 percent of the funds would be left for discretionary purposes.

Program Improvement

About $262 million would be allocated to program improvement and expansion projects at the state and local levels. The proposal assigns states about 25 percent of those funds and local schools about 75 percent. The Senate proposal also would reorganize vocational-education research within the National Institute of Education.

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