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Senate Reauthorizes Voc.-Ed. Plan With Flexible Guidelines

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Washington--The Senate last week approved a bill reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act that would exempt some states from restrictions on how much money they could spend on postsecondary education and training.

S 1109, approved on a vote of 96 to 0, would set the funding ceiling for vocational-education programs, which received $936.7 million in fiscal 1990, at $1.5 billion.

It would eliminate many "set-asides" for special populations, giving more flexibility to states and school districts. But it would require states to spend at least 65 percent of their federal funds for vocational education at the secondary-school level.

The mandated split between secondary and postsecondary programs was a contentious issue at the com4mittee level, and opposition from Senator Dave Durenberger, Republican of Minnesota, delayed floor action on the bill for months.

A compromise worked out between Mr. Durenberger and Senator Claiborne Pell, the Rhode Island Democrat who is chairman of the Senate's education subcommittee, was adopted last week without debate. It would allow the Secretary of Education to exempt as many as five states from the restrictions, according to a Senate aide.

Senator Nancy L. Kassebaum of Kansas, the ranking Republican on the education subcommittee, said the measure as approved "strikes a very good balance between competing concerns."

Aside from those winning exemptions, states would be required to spend between 65 and 75 percent of their federal funds on secondary8school programs and from 25 to 35 percent on postsecondary programs.

The spending requirement, which in many states would alter the spending split currently in place, would be phased in over three years.

In applying for waivers, states would have to show that they could better serve certain populations at the postsecondary level.

According to a Senate aide, the compromise would allow states that received waivers to spend as much as 50 percent of vocational-education funds on postsecondary education, provided that the additional money benefited specific populations, such as secondary students enrolled in community colleges, high-school dropouts, adults with high-school diplomas, and adults enrolled in federal job-training programs.

Mr. Durenberger maintained that without such a compromise, Minnesota's technical colleges could lose as much as $8 million of their annual $13-million share of federal vocational-education funding, because Minnesota channels most of its federal funds into postsecondary programs and relies on state funds to pay for secondary-school programs.

He also argued on the floor of the Senate that the funding split contained in the original bill "does not account for changing demographics" of those enrolled in vocational-education programs, including displaced homemakers and older workers seeking retraining.

The Senate adopted without debate an amendment, offered by Senator Frank R. Lautenberg, Democrat of New Jersey, to authorize creation of 10 community education and employment centers across the country at a potential cost of $16 million a year for five years.

The centers would provide a mix of academic and vocational training to reach populations of at-risk youths who otherwise "become a permanent urban and rural underclass," Mr. Lautenberg said.

He said the centers would be located in areas with heavy concentrations of low-income families and would be open to students from 7 A.M. to 7 P.M.

The Senate also adopted an amendment offered by Senator Sam Nunn, Democrat of Georgia, mandating a General Accounting Office study of vocational-education programs in West Germany that feature a strong emphasis on academics and apprenticeship.

The measure will now go to a conference committee, which will resolve differences between S 1109 and HR 7, which was approved by the House last year. The House bill employs a different funding formula.

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