School-to-Work Partnership Seeks To Lead by Example
WASHINGTON--President Clinton's school-to-work initiative has spawned a partnership between the Education and Labor departments that stands as a rare example of the federal government's practicing what it preaches.
But observers say it is too early to predict whether the collaboration will persist and spread throughout the two agencies.
The proposed "school-to-work opportunities act,'' which was sent to Capitol Hill in August, would encourage educators, employers, and employees at the local level to work closely together to create a smooth transition from learning to earning for young people.
"The partnership you see here, between the Secretary of Education and the Secretary of Labor is, in a way, a metaphor for the partnerships we hope will occur out there,'' Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich said at a Congressional hearing last week.
The program would be jointly administered and funded by the Labor and Education departments. And it would encourage states and communities to build upon existing education and job-training programs.
"School-to-work was, right from the start, inherently a collaborative effort,'' explained Leslie Loble, the special assistant to Mr. Reich who helped draft the legislation, "because the whole program design is fundamentally about the integration of education and work.''
"We are really trying, in every way, to send the message--and to genuinely undertake it ourselves--of reinventing government,'' she added.
'Very Rare' Experience
That message appears to be welcome on Capitol Hill, where House and Senate committees held their first hearings on the bill last week. (See related story, page 23.)
"You're making history, at least in the 30 years I've been here,'' Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., the chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, told the two secretaries during their joint testimony. "Your counterparts never appeared together. In fact, for many years, there was a question of whether they even talked to each other.''
Mr. Reich and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley began talking in February about how to fulfill the President's campaign promise to create a national system of youth apprenticeships.
Ms. Loble, an expert on workforce training, took the lead for her agency. At the Education Department, that task fell to Ricky Takai, then the acting assistant secretary for vocational and adult education.
Also helping guide the process were Deputy Secretary of Labor Tom Glynn and Undersecretary of Education Marshall S. Smith, whose friendship dates back to the Carter Administration.
"There was a period of time,'' said Mr. Takai, "when I actually spent a lot more time at the Labor Department than at the Education Department.''
According to Mr. Takai, who has spent 12 years in the Education Department, such a high level of collaboration is "very rare.''
While he is still working on the initiative, Mr. Takai has returned to his position directing the special-populations division in the office of policy and planning.
Together, officials at the two agencies planned an ambitious consultation strategy, in which they talked with representatives of some 120 groups about how to craft an effective school-to-work policy.
Capitol Hill appearances and public announcements about the initiative have all been handled jointly.
Ten interagency teams are working on various issues, from plotting a strategy for gaining Congressional support to planning how the grants will be administered.
In addition, a policy group that includes Mr. Glynn, Mr. Smith, and the heads of the divisions with primary responsibility for the initiative--Doug Ross, the assistant secretary for employment and training at Labor, and Augusta Souza Kappner, the assistant secretary for vocational and adult education--meets weekly.
"Part of what's going on here is you've got two secretaries who really appreciate each other,'' said Mr. Smith, "and that's kind of a rare event.''
They also "believe passionately in the development of human capital,'' he said, "and they recognize the relationship between education and training--a relationship that's just becoming closer over time.''
The notion of interagency collaboration also meshes with Mr. Clinton's efforts to streamline and "reinvent'' the federal government.
Ms. Kappner said the two agencies are now working on a "memorandum of agreement'' on their specific responsibilities for implementing the school-to-work program, "so we can do it efficiently and effectively and use the benefits of each department.''
But she and Mr. Ross were vague about the long-term structure for administering the initiative.
According to Ms. Loble, Secretary Reich's aide, "We would like to keep it as minimalist in terms of bureaucracy as possible and as open as feasible.''
Small and Understaffed
Nonetheless, observers are watching for signs that a turf battle may be commencing.
Just the contrast between the size of the two agencies raises questions about how they will ultimately share their roles. The Labor Department's employment and training administration has about 1,700 employees in Washington and in the field. In contrast, the Education Department's division of vocational and adult education has only 103 workers.
"We're very, very understaffed,'' Ms. Kappner said. "We're working pretty intensely on trying to figure out the best way to get the number of people assigned to school-to-work on an ongoing basis who need to be to make it successful.''
Even the language of the two worlds is different. Mr. Ross of the Labor Department, who is a former commerce director for the state of Michigan, talks comfortably about reorganizing his agency to meet "customer'' needs and about the cross-cutting teams that are common in business and industry.
But such phrases are less likely to roll off Ms. Kappner's tongue. She speaks more about how the school-to-work initiative has the "potential to improve education for all students,'' by creating closer ties between high schools, postsecondary institutions, and employers.
"Even students who go on to four-year colleges often are not getting the kind of preparation for the world of work that exists today,'' she said, "and many of them flounder for many years afterward.''
Past and Future Plans
Moreover, while the two bureaucracies have collaborated in the past, the results have been mixed.
Most recently, each agency awarded grants to consortia of business, labor, and education to develop skills standards for specific industries. But while there were some joint announcements, the departments awarded grants independently, for different lengths of time, and with different requirements.
Participants said the relationship between the two agencies was not always a happy one.
"I don't think the people in the field who were applying for the grants ever thought of this as one initiative, funded out of a single agenda,'' said Mr. Takai.
Yet over the long run, warned Mr. Ross, "the notion that ... Labor and Education would do their work on skills standards in a mostly separate fashion would strike me as undermining our goal.''
Skills standards, for example, are expected to drive the content of school-to-work programs and form the basis for awarding portable work credentials.
Mr. Ross also said the two agencies share a common interest in creating "one-stop career-development centers'' for Americans of all ages--a centerpiece of the Administration's workforce-investment initiative, which is scheduled to be sent to Capitol Hill this month.
Although the Labor Department has taken the lead on the initiative, which would initially focus on dislocated adults, Mr. Ross said the centers could eventually assist students in making career decisions. Better consumer information would also help insure that Pell Grants are used to purchase training of high quality, he said.
Still a Hard Sell
Despite the ballyhooed new spirit of collaboration, many educators in the field remain skeptical.
"Excuse me if I'm a little leery from this end,'' said A. Wayne Rowley, the vice president of Craftsmanship 2000, a youth-apprenticeship program in Tulsa, Okla. "I want to see if each one of the departments aren't vying to get the right people to apply for their money, so that their side will win in the long run.''
Vocational educators, in particular, worry that the much larger Labor Department will eventually usurp some of vocational education's mandate and funds.
"I like the joint planning and the joint administration, but I'd like to see specifics on how we measure whether it's being done jointly or not,'' said Bret Lovejoy, the director of government relations for the American Vocational Association.
He also worried about how the school-to-work initiative would effect the reauthorization--and funding--of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act, which is to expire in two years.
A member of the House expressed similar concerns last week.
During a hearing on the bill before the House Education and Labor Committee, Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., said she wondered "why you have this dual role--Department of Labor, Department of Education--with a lot of the responsibility going to the Department of Labor, rather than the Department of Education, where I think it belongs.''
"Would the states be provided with the flexibility to dedicate a
lead agency in your bill?'' she queried. "That seems to me to be a