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Senate Voc. Ed. Bill Draws Lots of Criticism

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Washington

Vocational educators and conservative groups are sounding alarms over a major vocational education bill that a Senate panel approved unanimously last week.

Both sets of critics raised numerous objections and threatened to withdraw their support for the measure, which would reauthorize funding for federal vocational education, job training, and adult education programs--a big sticking point for some in the vocational education community who believe their field should be treated separately.

Members of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee said they would be open to some compromises before the bill comes up for a vote in the chamber later this month.

The American Vocational Association, for one, plans to push for a "broad range of changes" before the bill gets to the Senate floor, according to AVA Executive Director Nancy O'Brien.

Her organization was one of 20 education groups to sign a letter expressing reservations about the funding system and other parts of the bill.

But Senate committee leaders warned that while they are willing to make minor changes to the bill, rewriting it is not feasible.

"Let me be clear: We are not going to rewrite this bill," said Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, one of the chief sponsors of S 1186. "We are willing to fine-tune it."

After a Senate vote, the proposed Workforce Investment Partnership Act will go to a conference committee to work out the vast differences between it and a related House bill.

The House bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act was passed in July.

It dealt only with vocational education, leaving adult education and other programs in separate legislation.

Funding Questions

A crucial point of contention for the Senate plan is a new funding formula that would give priority to states with unified plans, which combine vocational education with other job-training programs, when awarding federal grants.

Ms. O'Brien of the Alexandria, Va.-based AVA said relying on a state's funding structure rather than its students' academic performance could mean fewer federal vocational education dollars for schools.

If funding isn't earmarked, she said, states could take shift money away from schools and instead use it for other programs in their unified vocational education-job training plans, she said.

Kim Kubiak, the executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Vocational and Technical Education, based in Washington, said the Senate bill is now written too broadly to understand its full impact.

But she, too, feared that vocational education and schools would lose funding under the plan.

Streamlining Effort

The sponsors of the bill said they intended to streamline the patchwork of current programs for vocational education and job training.

A central part of the bill is the "one-stop service system," which was designed to provide information on a variety of services available to students and others seeking job skills.

It would also link federal job-training activities to other related programs that could be of service to the customers.

Mr. DeWine defended provisions in the bill, pointing to new programs that would target vocational education for at-risk students and dropouts.

Efforts to help those groups was a priority in drafting the bill, he said.

But Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said he would push for authorization of more funding for technology in vocational education classrooms.

The inclusion of vocational education in an omnibus bill that also contains adult and job-training programs angered some conservative groups, which are wary of what they see as a move toward a federal role in determining students' career paths.

Kris Ardizzone, the executive director of the Eagle Forum, said her St. Louis-based organization may again use the grass-roots lobbying efforts that helped it sink last year's vocational education reauthorization to protest this year's version if senators do not create separate vocational education legislation.

"This is not three separate bills stapled together," Ms. Ardizzone said.

Even if the bills were divided, portions of the bill, such as the grants to states, would still be objectionable to the group, she added.

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