Study Finds a Surprise in Voc.-Ed. Funding Pattern

By Reagan Walker — September 28, 1989 4 min read

Washington--Secondary schools get less federal vocational-education money--and postsecondary institutions get more--than most people have thought, a report released last week indicates.

The National Assessment of Vocational Education found in an interim report on 1986-87 funding patterns that community and technical colleges, adult-education programs, and other postsecondary institutions received 42 percent of the basic-grant funds from the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act.

Previous studies had suggested that such schools received only about a quarter of the funds.

Secondary schools received the bulk of the remaining funds. So their share constituted less than 60 percent of vocational funding, according to the report, rather than three-fourths, as formerly believed.

The study did not argue that secondary schools have suffered an actual reduction in federal funding for vocational programs. Instead, it sought to correct an apparent misconception about the extent to which they benefited from the funding.

The report, the second in a series of three studies mandated by the vocational law, was based on a survey of vocational-education programs in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Funding Varies

The report also found that the distribution of vocational funds varied widely in different states.

For example, New Mexico allocat4ed all its federal funds to postsecondary education, while Mississippi directed all but 8 percent of its federal funds to secondary education.

The Perkins act does not specify what types of institutions must receive funds, or at what educational level the funds must be spent.

Over all, the proportion of basic grant funds allocated to postsecondary education was significantly higher in Central and Western states than in those in the East.

“The findings about federal funds suggest that postsecondary authorities may exert greater influence on federal vocational-education resources in the Central and Western states,” the report concludes.

Central and Western states also were more likely to distribute funds on a discretionary basis, rather than through formulas. Programs for handicapped and disadvantaged students also reach a smaller percentage of eligible recipients in those states than elsewhere in the nation.

Few Regulations On Spending Such variations are possible because the Perkins Act only loosely prescribes how the federal contribution is to be spent.

The bulk of Perkins Act grants is divided into two categories--set-asides, which receive 57 percent of the funds, and program improvement, which receives 43 percent.

The former category channels funds specifically to the handicapped, the disadvantaged, adults, homemakers, criminal offenders, and sex-equity programs.

States are not required to allocate the majority of the funds according to population, economic need, or any other systematic criteria.

However, the set-asides for the handicapped and disadvantaged--which account for nearly one-third of all basic-grant funds--are distributed to districts and institutions on the basis of a federally mandated formula.

The formula takes into account the number of disadvantaged or handicapped students enrolled in a district or institution and the number of those students served in vocational programs.

Unspendable Money

But many institutions cannot make full use of their federal funds, the study found. Thirty-four percent of the school districts and postsecondary institutions were unable to spend all the funds received under the handicapped set-aside, and 36 percent could not spend all their grants for the disadvantaged.

Nationally, 13 percent of the handicapped set-aside went unspent, as did 17 percent of the funds for the disadvantaged.

Districts seeking to spend all their federal grants face many obstacles, the study said. Chief among them is the requirement that they match federal funding with money from other sources.

Although some states provide the matching funds needed by districts and institutions, others do not. Those that must find their own matching money frequently are unable to do so.

The percentage of eligible districts and institutions that actually received funds under the handicapped and disadvantaged set-asides varied from region to region. In the southeast, 92 percent of those eligible received funds, but elsewhere in the nation that figure was roughly two-thirds.

Snapshot Look at Standards The report included a brief look at vocational-education standards. A final report, to be issued at the end of the year, will contain a more detailed examination.

More than half the states have established minimum hours of instruction for completing a wide range of occupational programs, the report found. Slightly less than half have set minimum sequences of courses in such programs.

Four out of every five states reported reviewing the content of vocational-education courses.

The report found that few states have modified their vocational-education programs to accommodate the tougher academic standards for high-school students that many have adopted in recent years.

Previous reports have argued that vocational enrollments have fallen because increased academic requirements have left students with little time for vocational courses.

The study also contains an extensive analysis of enrollment and completion patterns in postsecondary programs.

Copies of the report are available from the National Assessment of Vocational Education, U.S. Education Department, FOB-6, Room 3141, 400 Maryland Ave. S. W., Washington, D.C. 20202.

A version of this article appeared in the September 27, 1989 edition of Education Week as Study Finds a Surprise in Voc.-Ed. Funding Pattern