E.D. Unveils Proposed Rules for Voc.-Ed. Programs

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WASHINGTON--Schools receiving federal vocational-education funds would be required to adopt performance standards and ensure handicapped students access to all of their state and locally funded training programs, under rules proposed by the Education Department.

The regulations, which were scheduled to be published in the Oct. 11 Federal Register, offer state and local school administrators their first look at the rules that will govern programs funded by the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act, which took effect in July.

The five-year authorization measure, passed by the Congress in 1990, overhauled existing federal vocational programs by abolishing earmarked spending for "special needs" students in favor of more general improvement projects.

The department's regulatory proposals, which had been watched most closely by advocates for the disabled, set broad requirements for program reporting and access provisions for handicapped students.

But rulemakers limited their interpretation of the special supplementary services the law guarantees handicapped students, such as an interpreter for a deaf student. The regulations indicate that the requirement applies only to students in Perkins-funded programs, and provide that the cost of the supplemental services should not exceed an amount that can be absorbed with the federal funds.

Special Services At Issue

Officials noted that the handicapped-services provisions in the law had been a major point of contention throughout the rule-making process and are expected to be a major focus of commenters.

"The philosophical issue here is whether Congress intended its dollars to be focused on special populations or program improvement," said Betsy Brand, the Education Department's assistant secretary for vocational and adult education. "That was the big debate: What was the true intent of the law?"

"We felt comfortable saying that the true intent was program improvement for all populations," she said.

But while limiting the scope of the requirement for supplementary services for the disabled, department officials made a broad interpretation of other mandates in the law. The proposed rules provide that the standards for student performance called for in the law should apply to the entire vocational-education curriculum of any school receiving Perkins funds.

Because federal funds account for less than 10 percent of vocational-education spending across the country, Ms. Brand said in a prepublication briefing for reporters here this month, an evaluation based on federally funded projects would be useless. "Some of those activities are so discrete, it would be difficult to tell what happens to the kids in the program," she argued.

The laws performance standards, which are designed to provide diagnostic assistance to teachers and administrators and bolster the accountability of vocational courses, would carry no sanctions or rewards.

Consortium Funding Allowed

On other issues, the proposed rules would:

  • Allow a group of school districts that do not qualify for the law's $15,000 minimum grant to make a combined application for federal funds only if the districts proposed a joint project. Consortia of colleges would not be able to apply for postsecondary grants, however.
  • Permit states to reserve a portion of the funding for "tech-prep programs," which link high-school and community-college curricula and community-based-organization programs, for administrative costs. The regulations also would permit "necessary and reasonable" local administrative costs to be drawn from federal program funds, and allow states to reserve technical-assistance funding.
  • Allow states to withhold federal funds from local districts that do not provide locally funded vocational-education programs that are comparable to programs receiving federal funds.

The rules also indicate that the Education Department will hold concurrent competitions for a national research and dissemination center focusing on vocational education.

The proposed regulations follow a period of unprecedented interaction between local, state, and federal officials on the shape of the Perkins rules, officials pointed out. The rules include several provisions crafted largely by local and state participants.

Most of the provisions will be no surprise to educators already operating programs under the law, said Thomas L. Johns, director of policy analysis for the vocational- and adult-education office.

"We've tried to advise them informally about the direction we're going," he said.

Mr. Johns acknowledged, however, that the previous involvement probably will not reduce the volume of comments on the rules.

The regulations will be open for comment for 60 days.

Vol. 11, Issue 07, Page 20

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