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N.H. Critics Target Federal Voc.-Ed. Funds

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Conservative groups in New Hampshire are lobbying state officials to return $13 million in federal funds the state received under an effort to help ease students into the workplace.

The school-to-work program is a federal erosion of state autonomy, the groups contend, and represents an attempt by the federal government to impose controls on the local job market.

Officials in several of the 18 other states that receive grants under the School-to-Work Opportunities ACT of 1994 have heard similar complaints and predict that the program may become a national issue for conservative critics of federal education policy.

The emerging controversy recalls the efforts of conservatives to derail outcomes-based-education reforms in many states, as well as opposition to the Goals 2000: Educate America Act.

Indeed, officials in several states say that some of the same people who opposed OBE have begun to question the propriety of accepting the school-to-work money, which will go to local programs that provide school-based and work-based learning that can lead to a high school diploma, a skills certificate, or a postsecondary credential.

While the most vocal critics of the federal program to date have surfaced in New Hampshire, education officials in several Midwest states said privately that they have begun to hear similar concerns from conservatives.

They speculate that efforts to undermine the program have been targeted at New Hampshire and Iowa to raise the issue in states with crucial presidential primaries or caucuses early next year.

Local Control at Issue

In New Hampshire, some state officials say they are hard put to make sense of the attacks on a program designed to help schools and employers cooperate to ease the transition from the classroom to the worksite.

"Quite honestly, I'm not up on the reasons why it's generating these concerns," said Ray Worden, the head of the New Hampshire Job Training Council.

Representatives of the state affiliate of the Christian Coalition and the Granite State Taxpayers met last month with Mr. Worden to argue that accepting the school-to-work grant would, in effect, allow the federal government to usurp local control of education.

That position appears to have strong support among some key state lawmakers, who say Gov. Stephen Merrill, a Republican, should have rejected the funds.

"We can do fine with our own resources," said Sen. David Wheeler, an opponent of the program. "This is nationalization of education."

Critics note that Gov. Merrill rejected Goals 2000 grants because he said they fostered federal intrusion into state decisionmaking.

And they say the school-to-work program requires states to impose skills standards on prospective workers. However, while the Goals 2000 law created a panel that will set national skills standards in various occupational areas, they are to be voluntary, and the school-to-work law does not require states to use them.

Jim Rivers, the governor's spokesman, said that Mr. Merrill was judging each program on its own merits. "It shows we're not taking an ideological position on these federal issues," he said.

National Attention

The school-to-work program is beginning to draw the attention of conservative activists nationwide.

In a syndicated column published this month in The Washington Times, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly linked the school-to-work law with outcomes-based education, arguing that both are part of an effort by federal lawmakers to impose national education standards on state and local governments.

"When you combine this workforce system with the schools' obvious failure to teach children to read and the dumbing-down process called 'outcomes-based education,' the result will be a third-world education to accustom Americans to third-world wages," she wrote.

An article posted on the Eagle Forum World Wide Web page on the Internet, written by Dennis L. Cuddy, who is identified as a former U.S. Department of Education employee, attacks a pending vocational-training bill as part of a plan "by which the education establishment hopes to achieve interlocking control over both the public school system and the nation's economy."

The Republican-drafted bill, known as the CAREERS Act, would replace some 100 job-training and vocational-education programs with block grants to states. The House overwhelmingly approved the bill last month with bipartisan support. (See Education Week, Sept. 27, 1995.)

Meanwhile, a conservative Republican U.S. senator is pressing the newly crowned Miss America to drop her emphasis on school-to-work issues. (See story, page 20.)

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