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Panel Eyeing Complete Rewrite Of Vocational-Ed. Aid Formula

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Washington--Late last week, a House education subcommittee was discussing, in preparation for a vote this week, a reauthorization bill for federal vocational programs that would radically change the funding formula to drive money directly to local school districts.

Capitol Hill sources said last week the proposal under consideration by the House Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education Subcommittee would do away with set-asides for special populations and for program improvement.

Currently, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act requires that 57 percent of basic-grant funds be directed in specific percentages to programs serving six special population groups, including the handicapped and the disadvantaged. The remaining 43 percent of federal funds are targeted for program improvement.

If the proposal under consideration is formally adopted, the 43/57 split would be eliminated completely. Thus, the set-asides for special populations would also be dropped.

In addition, most of the Perkins funds would go directly to local school districts through a federally mandated funding formula, leaving states with little or no discretion in deciding how the money would be spent.

"Right now, the proposal is still in flux," a House Republican staff member said. "But the overwhelming amount of money will be driven to the local level."

Sources close to negotiations on the bill said that instead of the 43/57 split, states could be mandated to direct up to 80 percent of their basic-grant monies to local school districts using a single, national funding formula.

That formula, the sources said, would rely most heavily on a district's Chapter 1 enrollments, but would also factor in the number of handicapped individuals and the overall number of students.

"The 43/57 split will be gone, but we will be directing funds to equity groups," said the Republican staff member. The staff member said using the counts for Chapter 1 and handicapped students should assure that those special populations are served.

The current law mandates specific distribution formulas only for two of the six special-population categories--the disadvantaged-students set-aside, which is 22 percent of the basic grant, and the handicapped-students set-aside, which is 10 percent.

The states have had total discretion in distributing the remaining set-asides and program-improvement funds.

If the proposal is accepted, after the designated percentage of funds is distributed to the local level, states would have to use up to half of the remaining basic-grant funds to operate statewide sex-equity programs, leaving as little as 10 percent for discretionary purposes. The sources said that administrative costs could swallow that remaining 10 percent.

Education lobbyists said last week that organizations representing local school districts, such as the American Association of School Administrators and the Council of Great City Schools, were the chief advocates of such a funding formula.

"It appears that the concerns of local school boards and administrators are being heeded," said Edward R. Kealy, federal relations director for the National School Boards Association.

Others said that groups representing state interests are most likely to oppose the bill. The markup of the bill and a subcommittee vote was scheduled for April 12.

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