Panel Clears Bill To Revamp Vocational-Ed. Formula
Washington--With notable consensus and speed, the House Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education Subcommittee last week unanimously approved a bill that would substantially change the operation of federal vocational-education programs.
The most far-reaching change in the bill would eliminate a variety of funding categories for basic grants, including those reserved for the disadvantaged, the handicapped, and other special groups.
In their place, the measure would establish a single formula for states to use in distributing federal occupational-training funds to local school districts.
Other key provisions of the legislation would require states to establish performance standards for vocational-education programs, and mandate that such courses integrate basic academic skills.
"What is interesting about this bill is the willingness of subcommittee members to make some substantial changes, as opposed to tiny, incremental approaches," said Michael D. Edwards, director of Congressional relations for the National Education Association.
The sweeping changes in the bill are the result of a general consensus among legislators that vocational education needs major alterations in order to garner political support and to move into the mainstream of education reform, Mr. Edwards and other sources on Capitol Hill observed.
Perhaps most indicative of the desire for radical change is the replacement of the decades-old term "vocational education" with "applied-technology education" throughout the bill. Even the law itself would become the Carl D. Perkins Applied Technology Education Act.
The full House Education and Labor Committee is scheduled to take up the bill on April 25.
New Funding Formula
Currently, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act requires that 57 percent of basic-grant funds be directed, in specified percentages, to programs serving the six types of special populations. The remaining 43 percent of federal funds are available for program improvements.
The law includes few mandates on how the funds are to be distributed, and so leaves most decisions to the states.
The new bill would abandon the 57-43 split completely--and thus, the set-asides for special populations--and create instead a single formula for state distribution of funds.
As a result, state agencies would have little or no discretion in how their Perkins funds were allocated.
The new formula would require 80 percent of basic-grant funds to be directed to local school districts or agencies.
States would retain the power, however, to determine the division of funds between secondary schools and postsecondary institutions.
The formula for secondary programs would be based on three factors: 70 percent on the number of Chapter 1 students in a district, 20 percent on the number of handicapped students, and 10 percent on overall enrollment.
After 80 percent of the funds have been distributed through the formula, the remaining money would be spent at the state level for administration; statewide sex-equity and displaced-homemakers programs; development of performance standards; partnerships among business, education, and labor; and programs for incarcerated youths.
While organizations representing school districts applauded the new formula, those speaking for state educators said the bill requires them to do too much with too little money.
Representative Nita M. Lowey, Democrat of New York, noted that the formula would not allow federal funds to go to regional vocational-technical centers that are funded directly by the state, as they are in New York.
Other subcommittee members complained that they had not had enough time to determine the effects of the new formula on their districts and states.
Many members said they were unable to obtain a final copy of the bill until the eve of the April 12 markup session.
Members and lobbyists said last week that calculations would have to be done in order to discover what types of districts stood to gain or lose under the formula.
The bill also would require states to develop and implement a system of performance standards within two years of enactment of the reauthorization.
The standards would have to contain measures of learning and competency gains, and one or more criteria from a group that includes secondary-school completion; job-skills attainment; and successful transitions into additional training, education, or military service.
The systems would also have to provide incentives for districts to serve special populations.
The bill does not specify what would happen if a school district did not meet the standards.
Another provision of the bill would allow federal funds to go only to programs integrating basic academic skills with occupational education.
In addition, the measure would replace the existing state councils on vocational education with "human-resources councils" responsible for coordinating vocational-education programs with those funded under the Job Training Partnership Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the employment-services act.
Other provisions of the bill would:
Require districts that receive less than $5,000 in basic-grant funds to participate in a consortium with other local education agencies to provide services.
Eliminate existing matching requirements and the "excess cost" provision, which allows federal funds to be used only to support additional costs beyond those that state or local funds cover for serving handicapped students.
Establish a national demonstration project for "tech-prep" programs coordinating instruction between high schools and community colleges.
Allow negotiated rulemaking, which permits local and state administrators to participate in the development of federal regulations.