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Voc.-Ed. Group Primes for Perkins Act Debate

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Washington--Nearly a year before the Congress is due to take up the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act, leaders in the field are plotting a legislative strategy that seeks relatively few changes in the law.

But officials attending the American Vocational Association's national policy seminar here last week said that one of those changes would be a strengthening of vocational education's role within the Education Department.

That proposal and others will be included in a draft bill being prepared by the organization's board, which is to be presented to lawmakers when the reauthorization process begins next February.

The ava will propose that the Education Department's office of vocational and adult education be authorized within the Perkins Act. Presently, it is mandated only in the department's general provisions.

Providing legislative language to cover the office's administrative functions, those here said, would ensure that the assistant secretary for vocational education has clear decisionmaking authority.

The move would designate the assistant secretary as responsible for the "essential functions necessary to run" the office, instead of having the Secretary of Education delegate those responsibilities.

References in the law to "the Secretary" would be changed to "the assistant secretary," and the office's specific functions would be spelled out.

The proposal also would require the President to appoint an assistant secretary with a background in vocational education.

Gordon Raley, the ava's director of governmental relations, said the new provision is needed to guarantee that there will be an advocate for vocational education within the department. No other office in the department is covered by such a provision, he said, but several offices within the departments of Health and Human Services and Justice are.

Others noted that the move was a response to attempts by the Reagan Administration to downplay the role of vocational education. The Administration has sought to terminate or freeze funding for vocational programs, they pointed out, and Secretary of Education William J. Bennett made no mention of the field in his model high-school curriculum.

A second proposal being advanced by the group is aimed at ensuring a continuing federal role in vocational education. It would give the act a permanent authorization, similar to that of the Job Training Partnership Act.

'Open-Ended' Reauthorization

Currently, the Perkins law must be reauthorized every five years, adding what Mr. Raley called an element of "uncertainty about federal involvement from year to year."

An open-ended authorization would allow for major changes and amendments to the bill to be enacted at any time, Mr. Raley said, but "the presence of the federal government would not be in question."

The only new program the draft bill proposes is in the area of personnel development. It would provide opportunities for experienced vocational educators to upgrade their skills, and assist teachers certified in other areas and persons in industry in gaining the necessary training to become vocational instructors.

The program also would provide internships for gifted and talented vocational students in federal and state agencies and policymaking organizations.

The ava board members havebacked away from an earlier decision to propose changes in the balance between funds earmarked for "set-asides" for special populations and those for program improvements.

Changes 'Up To Last Minute'

Currently, 57 percent of Perkins Act funds are designated to serve special populations, such as minority or handicapped students, and 43 percent are designated for program improvement.

At the association's annual convention in December, board members suggested changing the ratio to 50-50. But last week Francis T. Tuttle, president of ava, said that the response from members and a "feeling that the Senate won't go for the 50-50 ratio" had led the board to drop the proposal.

Mr. Tuttle asked the 400 members attending the seminar to provide more guidance on the issue. He said that the final bill the organization takes to Capitol Hill would be subject to change "up to the last minute."

Secretary Bennett has indicated that the Education Department may also draft proposed changes to the Perkins act that would include accountability measures as a prerequisite for continued funding.

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