Congress Amends and Expands Job-Training Program
WASHINGTON--After three years of often contentious debate, Congress has sent job-training amendments to President Bush for his signature.
The measure is designed to encourage greater coordination of services among job trainers, educators, and community groups and to provide more intensive services to participants.
The "job training reform amendments of 1992'' would create a year-round training program for teenagers and young adults, in addition to the existing summer program. It would be aimed at out-of-school youths and extremely poor school-age children.
States would have to allocate at least 40 percent of their Job Training Partnership Act funds for youth-training programs and 40 percent for adult-training programs.
The bill would also require that all JTPA participants be tested to assess their basic academic skills and to enhance their long-term employment prospects.
And it would let governors create single "state human-resource investment councils'' to coordinate the administration of federal job-training, welfare-to-work, and vocational- and adult-education programs.
The new year-round training program would target poor 16- to 21-year-olds, 65 percent of whom would have to have a second barrier to employment, in addition to poverty, in order to participate. Such barriers include being a teenage parent or having a physical disability.
Young people under age 18 who have not finished high school would have to enroll in an alternative course of study approved by their school district or return to a high school, an alternative school, or a high-school-equivalency program to participate in training.
No more than half of the participants in the year-round training program could be students.
The bill would also allow 14- and 15-year-olds to participate in the program, if provided for in a job-training plan.
In addition, it would enable states to create schoolwide projects in schools that enroll a large number of poor children. All students in such schools would be eligible for job training, regardless of income, as long as 70 percent of the students in the school had two or more barriers to employment.
Participants in schoolwide projects would not be counted against a state's 50 percent limit on student participation in year-round programs.
The amendments also would provide $100 million for a new "Youth Fair Chance Program,'' backed by the Labor Department, that would offer concentrated training to 14- to 21-year-olds in very poor rural and urban communities.
As in the schoolwide projects portion of the act, individual students would not have to prove their poverty to participate in such programs. States or localities that won such grants would have to match the federal aid dollar for dollar.
"A lot of the stuff that we had recommended in the JTPA advisory committee got in here,'' said Marion Pines, a senior fellow with the Institute for Policy Studies at Johns Hopkins University and the chairman of the Job Training Partnership Act Advisory Committee, "so I was pleased to see that.''
Ms. Pines said she was particularly pleased to see that individual students in schools with high poverty concentrations would no longer have to prove poverty in order to participate in the program. "We really argued long and hard for this,'' she said.
But she worried about the requirement that 50 percent of youth participants be school dropouts. "I think many of us would have preferred that 50 percent of the dollars be spent on dropouts, because those will be very expensive strategies,'' she said. "If 50 percent of the kids are dropouts, that could well soak up 90 percent of the money'' and leave little for dropout prevention.
The measure would continue to allow states to reserve 8 percent of their training allocation for state education agencies. The set-aside could fund school-to-work transition services of "demonstrated effectiveness,'' adult literacy and lifelong learning opportunities, and sex-equity programs.
One of the most contentious aspects of the bill had been the creation of super councils at the state level that would oversee all job-training, welfare-to-work, and vocational- and adult-education programs.
The amendments would let governors create such councils, rather than requiring them to do so, a move that had been vigorously opposed by vocational educators and some job trainers.
In addition, the act provides several other safeguards that would make it harder for governors to form such councils by fiat. First, a governor would have to obtain approval from the state directors of agencies accountable for each program for a program to be included in the super council. For vocational education, that would normally be the chief state school officer or the vocational-education director.
Second, the state council on vocational education would have to agree to any plan to shift its functions and the funding it has received under the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act over to the council.
At least 15 percent of the members on such super councils would have to come from the education community, including school districts, postsecondary institutions, and secondary or postsecondary institutions of vocational education.
Carnie Hayes, the director of federal-state relations for the Council of Chief State School Officers, said, "The key thing that we looked for in negotiating ... was whether it really was a voluntary super council.''
"The key bottom line was preserved,'' she said.
But despite the constraints on governors, Ms. Pines said, "if the governor has any leadership,'' he or she should be able to form a human-resource investment council.
"Dollars are so tight,'' she said, "that we certainly need to
integrate these programs much more carefully.''