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Funding Linked to 'Measurable Outcomes'

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Washington--In keeping with their proclaimed theme for the year, Education Department officials have included in their 1989 budget proposal plans to make schools and colleges more "accountable" for the success of vocational-education and student-aid programs.

"We want to link the level of federal funds a recipient gets to the attainment of measurable outcomes," said a senior ed official.

Also tucked away in the budget are plans for a new college-savings program and for overhauling library-aid and immigrant-education programs earmarked for elimination in prior years.

Vocational education, slated for zero funding in 1988, would be level-funded at $888.2 million under the 1989 plan.

But--in a preview of their proposals s reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act--ed officials have proposed basing continued funding for local programs on evidence of success.

"Our goal is to improve program quality by strengthening the states' responsibility for setting, assessing, and enforcing standards of performance," said Secretary of Education William J. Bennett.

Department officials said the proposals are modeled after new provisions for the Chapter 1 program, likely to be written into law this year, which would require school districts to improve failing programs.

States would be required to develop evaluation mechanisms--such as basic-skills assessment and placement rates in jobs or postsecondary programs--that measure student achievement. They would have "the authority to determine if programs are working" and the responsibility to step in and aid improvement of those that are not.

Current law requires states to develop measures of program performance, but "gives very little guidance about the kinds of measures the states should develop and contains no requirements about how such measures should be applied," the department's 1989 budget documents state.

"Enactment of these amendments will give the states a mechanism for building strong vocational programs and improving or terminating weak ones."

In the name of local flexibility, the department also plans to end categorical funding for homemaking education, community-based organizations, and bilingual vocational training. It proposes instead to increase basic state grants from $804.2 million to $848.3 million.

Officials of the American Vocational Association declined to comment on the proposals last week.

Aid With Accountability

In a similar vein, the Administration's 1989 plans for student aid are not nearly as drastic as those advanced last year, when it proposed a 45 percent cut in aid programs, including elimination of several initiatives and a halt to the federal subsidy for Guaranteed Student Loans.

Under the 1989 proposal, all but two programs would receive increases. Total available aid dollars would climb from $15.6 billion to $16.5 billion, and the number of students assisted would rise from 9.2 million to 9.3 million.

But those proposed funding hikes come with a dose of accountability.

Institutions' allocations under the college work-study program, which provides grants to pay 75 percent of student workers' salaries, and the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants program, under which institutions award grants to eligible students, would be contingent upon "institutional performance in meeting various pre-established student outcome objectives."

The objectives, which would be set by the institution and reviewed by the department and advisory groups, could include student achievement on examinations or success in job placement or academic-program completion.

"Because colleges and universities have control over and benefit from campus-based aid, it is reasonable to expect some accountability in return," Mr. Bennett said.

The department will also propose that for-profit entities, including proprietary schools, be excluded from the work-study program, and that the employer's share of student salaries rise from 25 to 50 percent over three years.

In conjunction with these proposed reforms, the Administration has requested $600 million for work-study, up from $588.3 million in 1988, and $416.6 million for supplemental grants, up from $408.4 million.

But Richard F. Rosser, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, said it is unlikely that adequate performance measures can be developed.

Dubious on Standards

"State schools can't agree on this, and they're talking about federal standards," Mr. Rosser said. "We don't have the methodology yet to make that kind of determination."

Charles B. Saunders, vice president for governmental relations of the American Council on Education, said he would defer comment until the proposed legislation is drafted. But he predicted that the only policy changes the Congress would entertain this year would be measures to curb student-loan defaults.

Proposed changes in the Guaranteed Student Loan program, which would be increased from $2.5 billion to $2.7 billion, are aimed at that problem.

Restrictions on Loans

Lenders would be required to check credit histories of borrowers, and those with poor records would have to find creditworthy co-signers. Borrowers would be asked for their driver's license numbers, addresses, and addresses of relatives at exit interviews.

The department would pay lesser percentages of defaulted loans to lenders and guarantee agencies, to increase their incentive to collect.

Some of these proposals "are obvious things that ought to be done," Mr. Rosser said, "but they are not going to take care of the problems. We've got to take a fresh look at how we lend students money," he said.

He also warned that proposed changes in the need-analysis formula that determines eligibility for most student aid could lead to "gross injustices."

Department officials said they plan to offer a package of reforms, including a proposal to exclude non-liquid family assets, such as homes and farms, from the analysis.

Mr. Bennett contended that including the assets discourages "prudent" behavior because those who dissipate their money instead of accumulating assets are rewarded.

'It's No Accident'

The proposals for campus-based aid programs reflect a tactic that is also being applied to library-aid and immigrant-education initiatives: If the Congress will not agree to eliminate or cut a program, propose reforming it instead.

"It's no accident," said a senior department official, confirming that the proposals stem from a conscious strategy. "The reason we proposed to kill [the programs] is that we felt they were not very effective."

For the Immigrant and Refugee Education program, the department will propose legislation that would prevent recipient districts from using the funds to pay general expenses or to supplant local funding.

The program, which assists districts with at least 500 immigrant students, currently requires no special instructional services.

In a similar vein, ed will propose regulations requiring that refugee education funds be used only to "meet the extraordinary educational needs of recently arrived refugee children." Eligibility would also be limited to districts with at least 20 refugee children.

The programs, slated for elimination in previous years, would be level-funded at $28.7 million and $15.2 million, respectively.

'Problems of National Interest'

Similarly, a new focus is planned for library-services programs, also slated for elimination in 1988.

The existing programs "have accomplished their objective of making public-library services available to virtually every community," according to budget documents. "Consequently, the department will propose legislation that will address problems of national interest that still exist."

The new, $76-million program would support projects to increase library use by disadvantaged populations, the sharing of resources between libraries, and research and assessment activities.

Existing programs, funded at $135.1 million in 1988, also support construction, literacy, training, technology, and preservation projects.

The final legislative proposal foreshadowed in the budget is a plan to enable families to save for college by purchasing U.S. Savings Bonds. Interest would be tax-free if it were used for educational expenses.

Department officials said the program's tax benefits would be phased out for families with incomes of $75,000 to $100,000.

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