House Bill To Create Voc.-Ed., Job-Training Block Grants Advances
The House Subcommittee on Postsecondary Education, Training, and Lifelong Learning approved a broad workforce-development bill last week that would give states more control over vocational-education and job-training dollars.
The Republican-backed bill, introduced earlier this month as HR 1617, would eliminate 50 programs and replace more than 100 vocational-education, literacy, and employment and 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. (See Education Week, 5/17/95.)
Just hours after the subcommittee met on Capitol Hill, President Clinton used a speech at the Automated Graphic Systems plant in White Plains, Md., to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his School-to-Work Opportunities Act of 1994 and defend the merits of the programs it supports.
"The school-to-work program rests on a few very big ideas," Mr. Clinton said at the plant, which houses a school-to-work program. "One of the ones that's most important to me is that there is no choice to be made between practical workplace skills and academic knowledge; that the two reinforce each other and go hand in hand."
Opponents of the House bill are worried that so-called tech-prep programs, apprenticeship programs, and other innovative efforts developed under Mr. Clinton's school-to-work program may lose funding under the Republican measure.
But supporters of the G.O.P. approach argue that it will reduce administrative burdens and data-collection requirements for states by paring a tangled web of overlapping and often duplicative programs. Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon, R-Calif., the subcommittee's chairman, declared that the measure would "eliminat[e] bureaucracy wherever possible."
The "consolidated and reformed education, employment, and rehabilitation systems," or CAREERS, bill is sponsored by Mr. McKeon, Rep. Bill Goodling, R-Pa., the chairman of the House Economic and Educational Opportunities Committee, and the rest of the committee's Republican members. (See Education Week, 5/17/95.)
Rep. Pat Williams, D-Mont., the ranking Democrat on the postsecondary-education subcommittee, said both Democrats and Republicans are strongly committed to reforming the nation's workforce-development system.
"We are serious about this being a bipartisan effort," he said. "It is still a work in progress, but I think we're making real progress."
However, Mr. Williams said, some concerns remain. In particular, he said, Democrats oppose including several-higher education proposals in the bill.
One of those provisions would eliminate the State Postsecondary Review Entities, new oversight agencies that Education Department officials say are necessary to combat fraud and abuse in the student-aid system. But higher-education leaders have argued that they impose unduly burdensome requirements on all colleges and universities, rather than just targeting problem institutions.
Mr. Williams also questioned whether the overall funding levels in the CAREERS bill would be "great enough to do the job."
The panel approved an amendment proposed by Rep. Mark E. Souder, R-Ind., that apparently represents an effort to address criticism that the bill would give governors too much latitude over the distribution of funds.
The amendment directs each state to create a fund-distribution formula for the youth block grant and the adult-training block grants. For the youth grant, the state formulas would have to take into account local poverty rates and the proportion of youths in each community.
Mr. Souder had also sought to include the number of high school dropouts as a factor in the state formulas. But Rep. Steve Gunderson, R-Wis., proposed striking the section, and the subcommittee agreed.
Mr. Gunderson said that factoring dropouts into the formula would be inappropriate because 40 percent of the state funds in the youth block grant are intended for in-school youths.
"These are in-school programs," he said. "We should not reward schools for students that are no longer there."
Clinton Praises 1994 Law
President Clinton's vocational-education bill, the proposed "Carl D. Perkins career-preparation act," would consolidate 23 separate vocational-education programs into a single grant and allow states to use Perkins dollars for activities like those financed under the School-to-Work Opportunities Act. (See Education Week, 4/19/95.)
In his speech in Maryland last week, President Clinton praised the School-to-Work Act as a "genuine partnership" that has involved more than 100,000 students and 40,000 employers nationwide.
"It set up no bureaucracy whatsoever," he said. "It simply made grants to local partnerships, many of them in poor areas, and gave students the chance to show what their hard work could do."
Mr. Clinton also decried the rescissions bill poised for final Congressional approval, saying that he will veto it because it would cut spending on education programs like the School-to-Work Act in favor of what he said were pork-barrel projects. (See related story .)