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School-to-Work Bill Ready for Consideration in House, Senate

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WASHINGTON--The proposed "school-to-work opportunities act'' sailed through markups in both the House and Senate last week, with a handful of changes that did not alter the basic shape of the program.

The House Education and Labor Committee and the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee approved slightly different versions of the bill on voice votes, clearing it for floor consideration.

The only dissent on either committee came from Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., the Senate panel's ranking Republican.

"We spend $20 billion already on a number of programs for job training, many of which are duplicative,'' she said, in explaining her vote. "I really don't want to see this become yet another program on top of similar and existing programs.''

Ms. Kassebaum voiced her opposition despite changes in the bill in both houses to encourage greater coordination of existing school-to-work and job-training programs, and the closer integration of state and local efforts.

As adopted in committee, for instance, the bill would allow states to use their school-to-work grants to reorganize and streamline existing programs and facilitate development of a "comprehensive statewide'' system.

Each state would also be required to submit reports to the Secretaries of Labor and Education describing the extent to which federal programs may be "duplicative, outdated, overly restrictive, or otherwise counterproductive to the development of comprehensive statewide school-to-work opportunities systems.''

"This does not set up any new entity, no new agency,'' said Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill.

Senator Kassebaum pledged to continue working on the bill before it reaches the Senate floor, which could happen as early as this month.

'Not Chapter 1'

On the House side, nearly a dozen amendments were added to the bill, most of them minor.

The most contentious debate focused on insuring that the legislation addresses the needs of all students--including school dropouts, disadvantaged students, students with disabilities, women, and those of diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds. Prior to the markup, provisions were added to emphasize the program's inclusiveness.

Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Penn., the ranking Republican on the House committee, cautioned, "This is not a Chapter 1 program we're designing.''

"We already have in this bill 30 references to serving the special needs of all students,'' he said. "I would hope we would resist going beyond these.''

One of the changes made prior to the markup would require states and localities to collect information on the post-program outcomes of students that, to the extent practicable, breaks out results for different income, racial, and ethnic groups, as well as for women, individuals with disabilities, limited-English-proficient students, school dropouts, and academically talented students.

Allowable activities under the act would also be expanded to include such things as graduation-assistance programs for at-risk students and supplementary services, such as child care and transportation.

Other changes made by the committees prior to the markup were designed to beef up the school-based component of school-to-work programs, by allowing funds to be used to design and implement school-sponsored work experiences, such as community-development projects, and to train school-site mentors.

The House version of the bill, HR 2884, also specifies that the school-based component must include career-awareness exploration and counseling "beginning at the earliest possible age, but ... no later than the middle-school grades.''

'Pressure To Move'

The Senate version, S 1369, requires that such preparation begin before grade 11, but would allow funds to be spent on activities as early as the elementary years.

As approved by the committees, both versions of the bill would also emphasize the early and sustained involvement of employers, including small- and medium-sized firms, in the design and implementation of school-to-work programs; increase the emphasis on training for both school-based and work-based personnel; and increase the number of localities that potentially could qualify for high-poverty grants under the program, by altering the criteria.

Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., expressed concern that the House committee was moving too quickly, before its members had sufficient time to study the proposed changes.

But Rep. William D. Ford, D-Mich., the chairman of the committee, said, "The problem is that we're running out of time here and we've got a lot of pressure on us to move this legislation.''

Administration officials have said they would like to see the bill passed before Congress adjourns on Nov. 22.

"I'm not at all optimistic that the leadership will let us on the floor before the holiday,'' said Mr. Ford, "but I'd like that to be their call, not our call.''

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