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Vocational Education

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A number of interest groups are warning U.S. Education Department officials that the actions of a "negotiated rulemaking panel" that met month may lead to an erosion of the central themes of the overhauled federal vocational-education act.

Lobbyists representing women and handicapped students as well as the Council of Chief State School Officers are concerned that the definitions that emerged from the rulemaking session will continue to limit federal grants rather than to encourage that the money be used for the overall improvement of local vocational programs.

Educators and administrators who met to recommend rules for the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act elected narrow interpretations of a pair of contentious issues in an attempt to curb federal oversight of local vocational programs.

The panel backed limiting evaluations under the Perkins Act to local activities receiving federal funds and urged restraint in defining the support services due special populations, saying that emphasizing supplementary services could dilute vocational programs.

The panel's decisions are not binding. Draft regulations are expected by next month.

Observers last week said they feared that the department had embraced the distinction between using Perkins funds to improve only the projects they finance, as the rulemakers requested, and offering federal funds in exchange for improvements throughout a 81 local program, as they say the Congress intended. (See Education Week, Aug. 1, 1990.)

The rulemakers "would allow access to a full range of programs, but not include service 8 provisions," said Paul Weckstein, co-director of the Center for Law and Education. "If you provide access for a limited-English-proficient student, but he doesn't understand a word that's spoken in the classroom, then you haven't truly provided access."

Observers added that by telling local vocational educators that federal mandates apply only to programs that are funded by the Perkins Act, the Education Department would encourage business as usual.

"This would make everyone think in the old way," said Carnie Hayes, director of federal-state relations for the ccsso "It's not really a system change."

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