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Lawmakers Expect Quick Agreement On Reauthorization of the Perkins Act

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By Peter West

Washington--Congressional lawmakers expect to hammer out quickly a compromise between House and Senate measures that would reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act, according to House and Senate staff members.

The Senate this month set the stage for a conference when it approved S 1109, which would authorize $1.5 billion in federal spending on vocational programs in the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1. (See Education Week, April 11, 1990.)

The House approved its version of the bill, HR 7, last May. That measure would authorize $500 million less than the Senate bill in fiscal 1991.

The Congress returns from a spring recess this week, and aides said lawmakers hope to reach a compromise on the measures before appropriations hearings begin next month.

The vocational-education measures are likely go to conference at the same time that lawmakers will try to reconcile the child-care bills they approved earlier this year, but Congressional aides said that scheduling is not likely to delay consideration.

"We're all anxious to have a final product," said an aide to Senator Claiborne Pell, the Rhode Island Democrat who is chairman of the Senate's education subcommittee.

Similar in Philosophy

Educators, lobbyists, and Congressional staff members said last week that the two bills are philosophically similar in their efforts to reduce federal "set-aside" programs for special populations and to target aid to poor, minority, and handicapped students.

And, they said, both measures seek to meld academic preparation with solid vocational experience.

"There's no deep philosophical chasm," said John F. Jennings, general counsel to the House subcommittee on elementary, secondary, and vocational education.

But most observers also said that "technical differences" in the way the two bills propose to distribute federal aid to vocational-education students and the amount of control vested at state and local levels will be points of contention.

"It's going to be a fight over formula and funding," said an aide to Representative Bill Goodling of Pennsylvania, the ranking Republican on the House Education and Labor panel.

Among the most contentious ofthose formulas is the "funding split" between secondary and postsecondary vocational-education programs.

The House bill would allow states to retain the flexibility granted under current law to determine how much they choose to spend at each level.

More Restrictive Version

The version approved by the Senate, however, is more restrictive.

Under the Senate bill, states could use from 65 percent to 75 percent of their basic-grant funding for vocational-education programs in high schools and area vocational centers.

The measure would also require states to spend from 25 percent to 35 percent of their aid on postsecondary education, targeting such populations as poor and disabled students and those with limited English skills.

The split was a contentious point in the Senate at every stage of consideration. Critics, such as Senator David F. Durenberger, Republican of Minnesota, argued that, despite a provision to phase in the changes over three years, many state programs, including those in his home state, would suffer drastic funding cuts.

Emphasis on Secondary Schools

Precollegiate and postsecondary educators are likewise divided in their support for seperate versions of the bill.

Edward Kealy, director of federal programs for the National School Boards Association, said the nsba supports the Senate's emphasis on secondary-school programs, "because that's where the kids are."

He said the concept of early intervention is a key to motivating students to succeed.

"You can't rely on the postsecondary system because most kids never get there," he said.

Frank Mencil, director of federal relations for the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, said both bills take the right tack in targeting needy and disadvantaged students.

But, he argued, "within that broad objective, the states are better off making their own decisons" about spending.

In many states, including Minnesota, Iowa, Washington, and Utah, where dropout rates are "comparatively low," he said, officials have used the flexibility allowed under current law to shift federal funds to the postsecondary level.

Even in states where dropout rates are higher, he argued, "if traditional voc.-ed. were the solution, then the dropout rates would not be what they are now."

Further clouding the picture is a last-minute compromise worked out between Senator Durenberger and Senator Pell that would allow states to apply for waivers that would allow them to devote as much as 50 percent of their federal grants to postsecondary education.

Mr. Durenberger's plan also would allow as many as five states to apply for waivers to increase postsecondary funding to 65 percent if there was sufficient demand for such programs.

The compromise, hammered out shortly before the Senate vote earlier this month, caught House members and lobbyists alike by surprise.

Local Funding Differences

The House and Senate bills also differ over how the state's share of funding would be spent at the lo4cal level.

The House bill would require 70 percent of the aid to be distributed to districts based on the number of students enrolled in Chapter 1 compensatory-education programs. Another 20 percent would be allocated based on the number of students enrolled under the provisions of the Education of the Handicapped Act, and the remaining 10 percent would distributed on the basis of overall enrollment.

The Senate version would establish a minimum district grant of $25,000 and would allow districts to pool programs to qualify for grants. Both bills call for coordination between secondary and postsecondary schools, in so8called "tech-prep" programs.

But the House version of the bill would authorize $200 million to fund cooperative agreements. The Senate version would reserve 5 percent of the state's basic grants for a competitive program.

Some vocational educators are also concerned about a provision in the House bill that would rename the act "the Carl D. Perkins applied-technology education act," because it deals with "how we're going to refer to ourselves in the future," said Gordon Raley, a spokesman for the American Vocational Association.

The Senate bill contains no similar provision.

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