Senate Panel Approves Direct Funding for Voc.-Ed.

By Reagan Walker — November 01, 1989 5 min read

Washington--A Senate subcommittee last week adopted a bill that would revamp the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act to channel a larger portion of federal funds directly to local school districts.

But several senators objected to major provisions in the bill and said they would seek compromises before the full Labor and Human Resources Committee takes up the bill this week.

The measure, S 1109, is similar to a bill passed by the House earlier this year. Both would eliminate a system of rigid set-asides for target populations, such as special-education students, the economically disadvantaged, and women, in favor of distributing funds at the local level in one lump sum.

However, the bill adopted by the Senate Education, Arts, and Humanities Subcommittee last week uses a funding formula different from that in HR 7, the House bill, and requires states to monitor local districts to ensure that special populations continue to be served.

Under the Senate plan, funds would be distributed to secondary schools according to the same formu4la used in the federal Chapter 1 program. That formula is based on the number of poor children in a district.

The bill, sponsored by the subcommittee’s chairman, Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island, and its ranking Republican, Senator Nancy Kassebaum of Kansas, also requires that the minimum grant be $75,000. That provision is intended to avoid--in Mr. Pell’s words--the “frittering away” of federal funds.

Recent studies have shown that many federal vocational-education grants were returned by school districts because they were too small to be useful or because districts could not meet the matching requirement.

The bill eliminates the matching requirement and allows several districts to form a consortium if individual grants based on the Chapter 1 for8mula fall below the $75,000 level.

But even with that provision, Senators Barbara Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland, and Thad Cochran, Republican of Mississippi, said they feared the formula might not direct enough funds to rural areas.

Both senators said they would seek a compromise formula before the bill is voted on by the full committee this week.

Another contentious clause in the bill would require that 70 percent of funds flowing to the local level go to secondary schools, and 30 percent to postsecondary institutions This is a requirement not contained in the House bill or in current law.

The National Assessment of Vocational Education found that state use of federal vocational-education funds varies widely. Some states, such as Mississippi, direct all but a small percentage of Perkins funds to the secondary level. Others, such as New Mexico, direct funds entirely to the postsecondary level.

To reduce the impact of the provision, the secondary-postsecondary split would be phased in over a three-year period.

But Mr. Cochran was joined bySenators Paul Simon, Democrat of Illinois, and Orrin Hatch, Republican of Utah, in criticizing the bill for not letting state and local administrators decide how to spend the funds.

The senators said they would seek to modify the division of funds, and lobbyists for higher-education groups said they would fight the provision.

The bill also preserves a strong state role. Such organizations as the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Association of State Directors of Vocational Education had criticized the House bill for shifting the focus too much to the local level and leaving very little funding for statewide initiatives.

Both bills give states a new role and new powers in monitoring and evaluating what goes on at the local level, primarily through the development of performance standards.

But the Senate bill retains more funding at the state level. Of the total pool of Perkins funds, the Senate bill would direct 95 percent to the state and local levels as basic grants, with the remaining 5 percent to be retained at the Education Department for national programs.

Of the basic grant, 20 percent would be used at the state level.

States are to use their 20 percent portion for administration and program activities, including creating new teacher-training programs, developing curricula, and creating performance standards.

The plan also mandates that 20 percent of the funds retained at the state level be devoted to sex-equity programs.

The House bill would retain 20 percent of basic-grant funds at the state level as well, but would require that those funds go toward certain activities, such as serving the incarcerated and serving displaced homemakers, that are included in other parts of the Senate bill.

The Senate plan also gives the state the option of keeping an additional 20 percent of funds at the state level to serve districts with “particularly difficult problems” if the state is willing to match the funds dollar for dollar.

Five percent of the basic grant is to be used to establish tech-prep, or 2+2, programs that link secondary and postsecondary programs.

Of the remaining 75 percent of the basic-grant funds, 70 percent would flow to secondary schools based on the Chapter 1 formula, and 30 percent would go to postsecondary schools.

The House bill uses quite a different formula for funding secondary programs. It relies on three factors: the number of Chapter 1 students, the number of handicapped students, and the overall enrollment in a district. The formula assigns weights of 70 percent, 20 percent, and 10 percent, respectively, to those factors.

The House plan relies on that formula to ensure that special populations are served.

The Senate bill is more specific in its special-populations requirement. It holds the state education department accountable for monitoring and ensuring that special populations are served.

It requires districts to assess the representation of special populations in their area and to identify resources to be allocated to meet those needs.

The bill requires that the state director of special education, the sex-equity coordinator, and the appropriate official who monitors state programs for individuals with limited proficiency in English review all local plans.

Naming a special-populations coordinator in each school district is listed as a priority for federal funds, along with integrating academic and vocational training and providing comprehensive guidance and counseling.

The legislation keeps the focus of the federal funds on program im8provement and stipulates that federal funds should continue to supplement, not supplant, state and local efforts.

The Senate bill authorizes $1.5 billion, slightly more than the $1.4 billion in the House bill. Appropriations for vocational education in fiscal 1989 were $918 million.

The panel also passed a bill sponsored by Mr. Simon that aims to coordinate the literacy efforts of government, private, and nonprofit groups.

The bill calls for the establishment of a National Literacy 2000 Interagency Council consisting of administrators of the major federal departments operating literacy programs.

In addition, the bill would establish a National Center for Literacy, state literacy resource centers, and a student literacy corps, which would utilize college students in literacy-training efforts.

A version of this article appeared in the November 01, 1989 edition of Education Week as Senate Panel Approves Direct Funding for Voc.-Ed.