Senate Panel's Action Advances J.T.P.A. Overhaul
WASHINGTON--After three years of fitful progress, legislation to retool the Job Training Partnership Act finally seems to be gaining momentum.
The Senate Employment and Productivity Subcommittee this month passed amendments to the J.T.P.A. that closely resemble those in a House measure approved last year.
Both the Senate bill and its House counterpart, HR 3033, would expand opportunities for teenagers and young adults by adding a year-round training program to complement the existing summer-only program. The new program would be aimed at at out-of-school youths and extremely poor school-age children.
The measures also would require that all J.T.P.A. participants be tested to assess their basic academic skills and to provide them with help to enhance their long-term employment prospects.
Observers say the bills would strengthen and expand the ties between job-training providers and schools.
"In many places, the private-industry council contracts with local schools now, but this will require more involvement from vocational educators and is a considerable step forward in the involvement of the federal government in providing education services through other routes,'' said Dale Huddleson, a spokesman for the American Vocational Association.
The Senate panel approved its reauthorization bill, S 2055, on a voice vote, and it is expected to pass easily when it reaches the Senate floor. A genial House-Senate conference on the bills is expected within a month.
The final version of the bill is expected to add a title to the J.T.P.A. creating a year-round program for poor 16- to 21-year-olds.
Under both the House and Senate versions, the majority of participants would also have to have a second barrier to employment in addition to poverty, such as receiving welfare or having a physical handicap. The House plan would require that 60 percent of the participants be from such groups. The Senate bill would set the level at 65 percent.
Under both bills, youths under age 18 who have not finished high school would have to return to a high school or an alternative school and work toward a diploma in order to participate in training.
While the year-round program would focus largely on out-of-school youths, the Senate bill would allow half of the participants in programs to be students. S 2055 also would allow 14- and 15-year-olds to participate.
The House bill would allow at least 40 percent of the participants to be students. Governors would be allowed to raise that level.
Both bills would require that school projects be limited to schools that enroll a large number of poor children. However, if 75 percent of a school's enrollment has two or more employment barriers, all students would be eligible for services.
The new youth program reflects the overarching themes of both bills--narrowly focused programs, greater coordination between job trainers, educators, and community groups, and more intensive training.
Both bills would continue to allow states to reserve 8 percent of their training grants to coordinate with education programs. The Senate bill, however, would require that most of those funds be used for school-to-work transition, literacy, and sex-equity programs.
In addition, both bills would provide $100 million for a new program backed by the Labor Department that would offer concentrated training to 14- to 21-year-olds in very poor rural and urban communities. States or localities would have to match the federal aid dollar for dollar.
The Senate bill also would require the local private-industry councils that administer J.T.P.A. programs to reach formal agreements with schools and other community agencies on such topics as referral procedures for dropouts, assessment practices, coordination with existing programs, and exchange of information on participants.
A consensus also has been reached on the most contentious aspect of the reforms--the creation of single state councils to administer federal job-training, welfare-to-work, and vocational- and adult-education programs.
The House bill would permit states to create such councils rather than require them to do so, a move that has been vigorously opposed by vocational eductors and some job trainers as well.
Although the Senate panel removed its provision for coordinated councils, several lobbying groups recently reached an agreement and were sending their plan to lawmakers last week.
Under the compromise reached by officials of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, the A.V.A., National Association of Business, National Association of State Directors of Vocational Education, and the National Governors' Association, the amendments would allow states to create a single strategic-planning council for the various federal programs.
The council would not, however, be responsible for operating programs.
Job-training officials agreed that the House and Senate bills would lead to greater involvement with schools, but noted that the program changes, combined with stagnant funding levels, will make the job-training changes a challenge.
"It's going to require a lot of retooling even though a lot of
service-delivery areas have been moving in that direction,'' said
Cynthia Davis, executive director of the Partnership for Training and
Employment Careers, an association of vocational trainers.