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Proposed Amendments Delay Vote on Voc.-Ed. Bill

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Washington

The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee took up a workforce-development bill last week but delayed a vote on the measure until this week after several members, primarily Democrats, brought up a varied array of amendments.

S 143 would repeal 91 separate vocational-education and job-training programs and replace them with a single block grant to states. The proposed $7 billion authorization level represents a 15 percent decrease from current spending levels on the existing programs.

The day began with senators from both parties praising the bipartisan cooperation that had produced the legislation. But it ended with a tense exchange between Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the panel's ranking minority member, and Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., its chairwoman.

The committee had spent the better part of a day tackling the bill, and Republicans were pushing to wrap up the debate and take a vote. But at 4:30 P.M. on June 14, Senator Kennedy still had several amendments he wanted to introduce.

"I'm not going to get stampeded and just not talk about it," Mr. Kennedy complained. Noting that the committee had worked on health-care legislation every day for three weeks straight last year--when he was still its chairman--Mr. Kennedy said a request to devote more time to the bill was "not an unreasonable kind of question."

Although Senator Kassebaum initially resisted Senator Ken~nedy's efforts, she later relented and adjourned the markup until this week. The committee plans to reconvene June 21.

Consolidation Plans

The bill, sponsored by Ms. Kassebaum, would merge a wide range of education and training programs governed by multiple agencies and laws.

The new program would be run by a "national workforce-development partnership," a new federal "corporation" that would replace vocational-education and job-training branches of the Education and Labor departments.

A similar measure passed earlier this month in the House. It would eliminate 50 programs and replace more than 100 others with four block grants, each addressing a broad domain: youth-workforce preparation, training for adult workers, adult literacy and education, and vocational-rehabilitation programs. (See Education Week, 5/24/95

In the Senate version, 93 percent of the $7 billion in authorized funding would go to states in a single block grant. The remaining 7 percent would be spent on national activities, including incentive grants for states, development of a national labor-market information system, and programs serving Native Americans.

Of the state funds, 25 percent would be earmarked for "work force education" at the K-12 and postsecondary levels. These funds would support programs like those now financed under the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act and the Adult Education Act.

Another 25 percent would be used to establish a "one stop" system of delivering job-training services. The remaining 50 percent would go into a "flex account," which states could spend on any workforce-development project.

Governors would make programmatic decisions in collaboration with a variety of stakeholders, including education officials.

Although the bill allows states to give individuals vouchers to pay for training programs of their choice--a prominent element in President Clinton's proposed "Middle Class Bill of Rights"--it does not have explicit language directing states to maximize their use, as the House version does.

Amendments Pending

A half-dozen amendments were approved on voice votes last week, all of them technical except for an amendment offered by Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., that added language to provide additional funding for states that moved people from welfare to work.

Senator Kassebaum repeatedly rebuffed efforts to target funds to specific populations or programs.

Sen. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., and Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., for example, proposed a requirement that 25 percent of state dollars be spent on adult-education programs. That amendment was defeated when the committee deadlocked 8 to 8.

Among the amendments tabled until this week were proposals to require participants in job-training programs to hold a high school diploma or General Educational Development certificate.

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, proposed shifting $500 million from the "flex accounts" to a separate account targeting at-risk youths.

Current spending on the Job Corps and Job Training Partnership Act--which would be subsumed by the block grants--totals $2.6 billion. But Senator DeWine estimated that states would spend no more than $1 billion on initiatives for at-risk youths under the new proposal.

Senator Kennedy is expected to introduce several amendments, including one that would increase the program's authorization level to $8 billion, and another that would create a pool of transitional funds to help states that have not yet established school-to-work systems.

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