Voc.-Ed. Bill To Create Block Grant Clears Senate
The Senate passed a measure last week that would consolidate almost 90 vocational-education and job-training programs into a single block grant to states.
The Senate passed the proposed Workforce Development ACT of 1995 on a vote of 95-2 after two days of debate. Supporters of S 143 argued that it would reduce redundancy among federal vocational programs and provide one-stop shopping for those seeking employment help.
"We now have a blueprint for a system in which the needs of all who require job training and training-related education can be addressed," said Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., the measure's primary sponsor. "The system we are creating today will give states the flexibility to tailor activities to fit their particular needs, while being accountable to the public in the use of federal funds."
The bill would replace numerous federal programs within two years with a single block grant, although it would retain the Job Corps as a separate federal program. Unlike the counterpart House bill, which was amended to remove vocational-rehabilitation programs for separate consideration, the Senate measure would include those programs in its block-grant.
It would authorize $7 billion in spending annually, which represents a 15 percent decrease from current spending on the programs that would be replaced.
Each state would be required to spend 25 percent of its grant on "workforce education" activities, including precollegiate and postsecondary vocational education and adult education. These funds would be overseen by state education agencies. Another 25 percent would be earmarked for "workforce employment" activities, and would be controlled by governors.
The remaining half could be spent at a state's discretion, as determined under a state plan. The plans are to be drawn up by the governor, state education officials, local officials, and representatives of business and labor, although the governor would have the final say if no consensus were reached.
Although the measure passed overwhelmingly, some lawmakers voiced lingering reservations about turning over so much responsibility to the states.
"I view this legislation with mixed feelings," said Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill. "I like the idea of consolidation, one-stop shopping, and labor-market information. I am just not an enthusiastic supporter of saying to the states, 'You have this money and you make all of the decisions."'
The Senate vote paves the way for a conference with the House, which last month passed its own block-grant measure, the Consolidated and Reformed Education, Employment, and Rehabilitation Systems ACT of 1995, also known as the CAREERS Act. The House bill, HR 1617, would kill 50 federal programs outright and channel spending for about 100 others into three block grants addressing youth workforce preparation, training for adult workers, and adult education and literacy. (See Education Week, Sept. 27, 1995.)
Before passing its bill, the Senate rejected an amendment, offered by Sen. James Jeffords, R-Vt., and Sen. Claiborne Pell, D-R.I., that would have required state education agencies to spend 75 percent of their funds on adult education. Sen. Pell argued that adult-education programs could be expected to become more heavily used under a one-stop approach to vocational coun~seling. The amendment was defeated 49-46.
The Senate passed by voice vote an amendment that would require states to make annual reports on the progress of vocational programs in meeting state performance benchmarks. An amendment that would require applicants for job-training programs to submit to random drug tests also passed, by a vote of 56-43.