Who Should Control Voc.-Ed. Dollars Is a Hot Topic
Whether governors or state educational agencies should control how vocational-education dollars are spent is emerging as a prominent question as Congress tackles several bills designed to replace existing federal programs with block grants.
Noting that the leading measures pending in the House and Senate have a great deal in common, Victor F. Klatt, the education-policy coordinator for the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, called the proposed changes "true reform of a scale that has not gone through this committee in a long time."
But even as it seems virtually inevitable that lawmakers will pass some type of block-grant plan, vocational-education advocates are concerned that more flexibility for states will translate into less funding for vocational programs.
And getting bipartisan support for the proposals may be hard. Rick Jerue, the minority education counsel for the House committee, said the panel's Democrats have "major problems" with several of the bill's central provisions.
"The bill totally violates state constitutional government structures with respect to education," he charged. "The way the bill is written, governors could decide to give the money to anybody."
The House panel is expected to move quickly on its workforce-development bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the committee's chairman, and Rep. Howard P. McKeon, R-Calif., the chairman of its Postsecondary Education, Training, and Life-Long Learning Subcommittee.
The bill, introduced last week, would eliminate 50 programs and replace more than 100 vocational-education, literacy, and employment-training programs with four block grants to states. Each grant would address a broad domain: youth-workforce preparation, training for adult workers, adult literacy and education, and vocational-rehabilitation programs.
The youth-workforce grant would support programs currently funded under the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act--which is up for reauthorization this year--the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, and the Job Training Partnership Act, among others.
Within the youth grant, the measure would require that states spend 90 percent of their funds at the local level. Of this money, 40 percent would be designated for programs serving in-school youths, and 40 percent for dropouts or at-risk youths. The remaining 20 percent could be spent on either group.
Notably, the adult-training block grant has a voucher component that resembles the "skill grants" plan proposed by President Clinton last December in his "Middle Class Bill of Rights." (See Education Week, 1/18/95.)
The two subcommittees with jurisdiction over the bill are expected to vote on the measure this week, and the full committee hopes to complete its work on the bill by the Memorial Day recess, according to Congressional aides.
In the Senate, the chairwoman of the Labor and Human Resources Committee, Nancy L. Kassebaum, R-Kan., plans to introduce a similar bill by early June. A draft of her plan is currently circulating on Capitol Hill.
Senator Kassebaum's plan will feature one large block grant. According to a paper circulated by the senator's staff, funds "would be divided at the state level between the two principal elements of the system: education and employment/training services."
At least 25 percent of the funds for the vocational- and adult-education component would be earmarked for programs designed by state and local education agencies, including programs now supported by the Perkins Act.
Meanwhile, a plan released by the Clinton Administration last month would maintain a separate federal program for vocational education. But the bill also emphasizes consolidation and would replace 23 vocational-education programs with a single block grant to states. (See Education Week, 4/19/95.)
The major issues facing Congress are how much money to spend, who controls it, what kind of programs it can be used for, and which programs are joined together, said John F. Jennings, the director of the Center on National Education Policy in Washington.
While Mr. Clinton is asking for about the same amount of money currently being spent on vocational education under Perkins--about $1.1 billion this year--the Republicans are expected to propose cuts in their broader workforce plans, perhaps as much as 25 percent.
At a news conference last week, the Republican sponsors of the House bill declined to reveal how much funding they plan to request for the 100 consolidated programs. But they said they would expect the elimination of duplicative programs would result in significant savings.
Vocational-education advocates expressed concern last week that the G.O.P. plans give too much control to governors, who they believe are more likely to focus on producing short-term results.
"We're not opposed to having governors more involved with the vocational-education system," said Bret Lovejoy, the president of the American Vocational Association. "The concern is that much of the emphasis will be placed on short-term training needed to meet the immediate concerns of business without taking a long-term view of the education process that prepares students for careers."
Mr. Jennings, a former longtime Democratic Congressional aide, suggested that the funds could be subject to more political pressures if they are taken out of the hands of state education agencies.
"If you are a governor who is running for office and a contributor comes in who heads a corporation and says he wants 50 people trained for a factory he runs, and the governor is deciding, 'Should I send the money to schools, or should I send it to the head of a corporation?' he may be tempted to send it to the head of the corporation," Mr. Jennings said.
And while the block-grant plans would allow states to fund tech-prep programs, apprenticeship programs, and similar efforts now funded under the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, others who support such endeavors noted that there are no guarantees that any money would be spent on them.
But Patricia F. Sullivan, the director of education legislation for the National Governors' Association, said it is "unfair to assume governors aren't going to do the right things, that they don't have those same interests at heart."
Their primary concern, she said, is developing comprehensive statewide workforce-development systems. If governors are allowed to do that, they will accept greater responsibility for the state's performance, she said.