President Signs School-to-Work Transition Law
President Clinton last week signed the School-to-Work Opportunities Act in a ceremony on the White House lawn, calling the measure a "whole new approach to work and learning.''
The President has requested $300 million for fiscal 1995 grants to states and communities to help ease the transition from education to employment for thousands of young people, particularly those not bound for college. Congress appropriated $100 million to launch the initiative this year.
Programs funded under the act will be required to provide a combination of school-based and work-based learning that can lead to a high school diploma, a skills certificate, and, where appropriate, a postsecondary credential.
"It's a small seed that I believe will give us quickly a national network of school-to-work programs,'' predicted Mr. Clinton, who signed the bill into law before more than 50 young people engaged in such programs, at a desk built by students from the Manufacturing-Technology Partnership in Flint, Mich.
The ceremony, which took place on a rainy day under a tent on the south lawn, drew more than 300 people, including governors and members of Congress; business, education, and labor leaders; and participants from local programs.
But the star of the show was Chris Brady, a 20-year-old senior at Boston High School in Massachusetts. A former dropout, Mr. Brady is now enrolled in Project ProTech, a youth-apprenticeship program in Boston.
A few years ago, Mr. Brady said, he never planned to graduate from high school.
"I thought school was a waste of time,'' he said. "I didn't like it. That's why I hardly ever went.''
Today, he is monitoring cash transactions of more than $10,000 for the Fleet Bank in Boston, as part of ProTech's financial-services program. And he has been accepted into a two-year business-administration program at Newbury College in Massachusetts.
"For the first time ever,'' Mr. Brady told the audience, "I actually like going to school. ... I hope this legislation helps students across the country understand that school and work are connected, so that they don't have to learn the hard way like myself.''
"These programs,'' said Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, "turn dreary classrooms into places where learning is enjoyable yet challenging to the same high standards. ... It offers our young people college and careers--not one or the other.''
Many of those attending the bill-signing cermony said that the funds available under the act are minimal, providing "venture capital'' rather than sustained funding for such programs.
But they said the law sends an important signal that the nation is serious about reforming its education-and-training system, particularly for those who do not plan to attend college immediately after high school graduation.
"Essentially all industrialized countries, including Japan, are re-examining how to organize the vocational preparation of the workforce, especially the initial preparation,'' said Joan L. Wills, the director of the Center for Workforce Development at the Washington-based Institute for Educational Leadership. "Finally, the workplace has changed sufficiently that you have to think differently about how to prepare people for it.''
The Clinton Administration has launched a three-pronged strategy to provide Americans with lifelong learning opportunities.
The Goals 2000: Educate America Act, signed by President Clinton last month, will help create national standards around which education and job-training programs could be designed. The school-to-work act will help develop programs that link education and employment for new workers. And the "re-employment act,'' now pending in Congress, would provide retraining for individuals who have lost their jobs.
"There should not be a barrier between education and work,'' Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich argued. "We're talking about a new economy in which lifelong learning is a necessity for every single member of the American workforce.''
Teachers and administrators expressed hope that the school-to-work act will help their programs expand rapidly over the next few years.
Janet Swenson, the applied-academics coordinator for Flint's Manufacturing-Technology Partnership, said her community would like to add a financial-services academy and a health-care academy for high school students next year.
"Right now, we need the seed money to be able to get them rolling,'' she said, "until employers understand the real benefits.''
"What [the act] will allow us to do is scale up and, I believe, serve as a model not only for our state but others,'' added Mary Skalecki, the principal of East High School in West Bend, Wis.
Her community now offers youth apprenticeships in printing and financial services. It plans to expand into health care and insurance next year.
"We'll reach the point, eventually, where we saturate the industries in our community,'' Ms. Skalecki said, "but right now, we want to keep growing.''
However, others noted that, despite the act's potential, implementing it will pose significant challenges for states and communities.
Madeleine Hemmings, the executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Vocational-Technical Education, said the law could provide an impetus for communities that have not tried to create school-to-work programs in the past.
But, she added, such programs "will probably have some tendency to settle where there are skills shortages, because the people who are going to do this are the people who need people, and I think that's important to realize.''
"There are two big challenges,'' Ms. Wills said. "One is how to efficiently and effectively ... engage the employer community.''
"The other,'' she said, "is how to take this glue money, which is what the school-to-work program dollars are, and really begin to leverage it to change the organizations and the systems out there. And that's time-consuming.''
The Education and Labor departments, which will run the new program jointly, plan to make the $100 million appropriated for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 available to states and communities under existing legislative authority.
All states have received development grants of $200,000 to $750,000 for a nine-month period. In addition, five-year implementation grants will be competitively awarded this spring to states that are ready to carry out a full-scale, statewide plan.
Twenty-two states applied for the grants by the April 1 deadline. Within the next two weeks, the departments plan to notify the finalists about site visits.
As many as eight states will be chosen this year. By the end of four years, it is expected that all states will receive implementation grants.
Local school-to-work partnerships also had until May 9 to apply for implementation grants of their own.
An estimated 15 to 25 grants will be awarded this year to communities that are ready to begin school-to-work programs ahead of their states.
Grants also will be awarded to local partnerships in high-poverty urban and rural areas, as well as to programs in the U.S. territories and those serving Native American youths.
A notice inviting applications is expected to be published in the Federal Register later this month, with grants to be awarded in late summer.
As signed by President Clinton last week, the School-to-Work Opportunities Act:
Authorizes $300 million in fiscal 1995, and open-ended funding through fiscal 1999, for grants to states and communities to help youths make the transition from education to employment.
Requires eligible school-to-work programs to include three core program components:
School-based learning that includes career exploration and counseling; selection by interested students of a career major no later than the 11th grade; and a program of study that integrates academic and vocational education.
Work-based learning that includes a planned program of job training, paid work experience wherever possible, workplace mentoring, and instruction in general workplace competencies.
Connecting activities that match students with employers who can provide work-based learning experiences; coordinate the involvement of employers, schools, parents, and students; and assist students who have completed the program in finding appropriate jobs or pursuing further education and training.
Provides three types of grants to states and communities to implement their own school-to-work systems:
Development grants, available to all states based on population, which can be used to help establish a statewide system.
Five-year implementation grants, awarded on a competitive basis, to states that submit comprehensive plans for implementing a statewide school-to-work system.
Grants to local communities, awarded on a competitive basis, for communities ready to implement school-to-work programs before their states, and for urban and rural areas with high unemployment and poverty rates.
Allows states to seek relief from certain federal laws and regulations governing job-training and education programs in order to combine federal resources for school-to-work activities.