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Merge 23 Voc.-Ed. Programs Into One Grant, Administration Proposes

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A proposal unveiled by the Clinton Administration last week would consolidate 23 separate vocational-education programs into a single grant, giving states greater flexibility over how to use the federal dollars.

The Administration outlined the proposed "Carl D. Perkins career-preparation education-reform act" at an Education Department briefing. The bill--one of several parts of the Administration's "Middle Class Bill of Rights"--is intended to amend the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education and Applied Technology Act, which is up for reauthorization this year.

Proposed by President Clinton last December, the Middle Class Bill of Rights is a broad package of initiatives intended to help the middle class gain access to college and job-training programs. It includes proposals to give families an income-tax deduction for college tuition and to create "skill grants," vouchers of up to $2,620 that low-income adult workers could use to pay for job-training programs of their choice. (See Education Week, 1/18/95.)

The skill-grant plan was introduced as legislation in January, and the Administration is expected to draft other bills addressing other aspects of the package.

The career-preparation act was introduced as HR 1426 in the House this month by Rep. William L. Clay, D-Mo., and as S 696 in the Senate by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. They are the ranking Democrats on the House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over education legislation.

Consolidation Consensus

Victor F. Klatt, the education-policy coordinator for the House Educational and Economic Opportunities Committee, said the consolidation features of the Clinton plan show that the Administration "has come a long way" toward the kind of approach favored by Republicans.

"The Democrats in general have been unwilling to take a hard look at many small categorical programs, and this is one indication that they are starting to come around," he said.

"We have been in regular contact with the Administration--both the Education and Labor departments--and there is nothing we would like better than to fashion a bipartisan bill that both of us can support," Mr. Klatt added.

Early next month, he said, Republicans in the House expect to introduce broad workforce-development legislation that would replace at least 80 categorical programs with a small number of block grants focusing on specific populations such as youths or adults. Senate Republicans have also expressed interest in block-grant plans. (See Education Week, 12/7/94.)

The Clinton plan would replace a smaller number of categorical programs, focused specifically on school-based initiatives.

The measure would allow states to use Perkins dollars for activities like those financed under the School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994, such as integrating vocational and academic instruction or career mentoring. States would also be encouraged to link vocational-education programs with broader school-reform efforts.

Accountability Measures

The bill would also allow states to combine Perkins Act money with federal funds authorized under the School-to-Work Act, the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the Job Training Partnership Act.

The bill would continue to earmark some funds for programs serving Native Hawaiians and Native Americans.

In exchange for the added flexibility and a reduction in federal directives, states would be expected to set performance standards. The federal government would hold states accountable by awarding additional money to states that met their goals and withholding funds from those that did not. States would be evaluated every two years to track their progress, based on such measures as high school graduation rates, skill-certificate and college-completion rates, and graduates' job placements and earnings.

Although performance standards were instituted in the last reauthorization of the Perkins Act, Congress did not link them to any penalties or rewards.

Vocational-education advocates expressed concern last week that the bill's language is not specific enough, and said there was no way of insuring that money would be spent on vocational education.

Mixed Reactions

"The reality is, if you don't start to earmark some of this money at the federal level, maybe it won't get there," said Paul Plavin, the director of publications for the American Vocational Association. "And that's what we fear."

But John F. Jennings, the director of the Center for National Educational Policy at the Washington-based Institute for Educational Leadership, and a longtime Democratic Congressional aide, said the Clinton plan was a step in the right direction.

"It's trying to shift toward measuring results, instead of emphasizing process so much," he said.

Mr. Jennings predicted that one point of partisan contention will be whether to give governors or state education agencies control of vocational-education dollars.

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