Schools Lose Out On Training Funds Under New Law

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Concern is mounting among education groups about the role that schools will play--or not play--in the newly passed $3.7-billion bill that will replace the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (ceta) next October.

Because of changes in the way ceta is being administered in its final, transitional year, school districts are losing funds for local employment and training programs. And spokesmen for various education groups fear that these funding shifts signal the possibility that schools may be "levered out" of the new local programs that will be established under the Job Training Partnership Act (jtpa) signed by President Reagan this fall.

The cause of the funding changes and worries is a provision of jtpa that allows local governments to prepare for the changeover from ceta to the new program by "consolidating" their final ceta appropriation and spending it as they see fit. In their capacity as administering agencies of the training programs, local governments "are taking advantage of the consolidation provision to cut out the schools," according to Dena G. Stoner, a lobbyist for the National School Boards Association.

Although she has not been able to determine how widespread the problem is, Ms. Stoner said the number of complaints from school districts is increasing. "It looks like the provisions [of the new law] are a major problem," she said.

Under ceta, school districts could apply to their local government or other sponsoring agency for money to provide on-the-job training opportunities for students during the school year (Title II) and in the summer (Title IV).

Transition-Year Provisions

Under the new law's transition-year provisions, local governments may operate any program authorized under ceta, according to Robert N. Colombo, the acting director of the Labor Department's office of employment and training programs. If they choose to consolidate their allocations, he said, "they do not have to spend the money on any particular program title, and there's nothing we can do."

"One of the principles of the new law is that the federal government is not going to have a large role," Mr. Colombo added. The department's authority is limited, he said.

Although the regulations for ceta are still in force during the current transition year, at least one school district has been informed that its youth program will not be funded. In some other districts, the consolidation has resulted in reduced training programs for students.

The Toledo, Ohio, school district received notification in August of the local ceta sponsor's decision to administer a consolidated program designed for unemployed adults rather than the several separate programs, some involving schools, that it operated in previous years.

The San Francisco Unified School District, after learning in July of the city government's intent to take advantage of the consolidation provision, appears to have successfully argued against the elimination of funding for a work-experience program the district has operated for high-school students.

But with its $105,000 allocation this year, the district will be providing work experience for less than half the number of students served last year, according to James A. Coleman, the district's project director. But during this transition period, he said, the district will modify its activities so that it will meet guidelines for the new program, which will take effect in October 1983.

Mr. Coleman credits the district's participation this year to intervention by the mayor's office. "There was some confusion over the interpretation of the legislation," he said. "We just accepted very complacently that there would be no youth work-experience program."

Under an arrangement similar to San Francisco's, school officials in St. Louis will operate a career-education program, but with reduced funding, according to Susan Katzman, who manages the district's program. She said the program budget of $280,000 has been cut by $130,000, which means the district will have to find other funds to cover administrative costs.

The consolidation provisions, along with municipalities' financial problems, are "levering the schools out of participation," according to Michael Casserly, legislative and research associate for the Council of Great City Schools, a consortium of 30 of the nation's largest urban school systems.

"I suspect there will be lots of others [losing out on the program] in the months to come," he added.

School districts' involvement in the new training program is a particularly sensitive issue among educators who have encountered resentment from segments of their community over a perceived failure by the schools to respond to special needs of some youths. That failure, critics say, has compelled the nation to spend more than $50 billion in manpower training since 1974.

Nevertheless, state education agencies received more than $350 million in ceta funding between the fiscal years 1973 and 1978, according to a survey of state directors of vocational education sponsored by the National Institute of Education. And even that figure is believed to underestimate the total employment and training funds that have been disbursed to school districts during those years.

Federal Funding

In a report, prepared by the council, on the budgets of 28 urban school districts, ceta ranked as the third-largest source of federal funding. In the fiscal year 1982, the school districts surveyed received approximately $178 million; in the fiscal year 1983 the amount was reduced to about $47 million, primarily as a result of President Reagan's elimination of public-service jobs.

"Part of our concern has been the amount of money that has gone to private groups [that have only recently been formed] to operate training programs, instead of established public institutions," said Russell A. Working, Toledo's deputy school superintendent. "We want to work with youth and adults, but the present program is only for adults," he said of the local ceta sponsors' decision in October to support a second and alternative proposal submitted by the district that met the local sponsor's program objectives. Last year, the district's career-education program served about 3,500 students through ceta, but it will be trimmed considerably, he said, because of the funding cut.

Bruce Hunter, a lobbyist for the American Association of School Administrators, said that school participation during the transition year is crucial because that is when much of the structure of next year's training programs will be formulated.

"If you are consolidated out [during the planning stages], you're an outsider peeking in rather than an insider," Mr. Hunter added.

While admitting that "not every city is having the same kind of problem, and not every city is having a problem," Mr. Hunter said that the question of what role the schools will play under the new employment and training law must be addressed. "It's early in the cycle; everyone is on continuing resolution and no one is certain about what will happen," he added.

Ms. Stoner contends that the transition provisions contained in the new law "were fashioned in legislative conference without any real [consultation with] the education community." She said Congress did not, however, intend that the provisions be used against any particular group of program participants.

Both Ms. Stoner and Mr. Hunter agree that the consolidation "loophole" should be corrected. Mr. Hunter said he has contacted Congressional aides to elicit support for an amendment that would add language that clarified the consolidation provision to the next appropriations bill.

The difficulties facing local school districts come at a time when the National Governors Association has scheduled a policy conference on the new legislation to review the recommendations of its task force on employment and training.

Fostering Relationships

John F. Martin, director of federal-state relations for the Council of Chief State School Officers, said he believed a major portion of the conference would be devoted to fostering relationships between educators and employment and training organizations.

In addition to the representation of educators on state and local advisory councils, the new law requires that training programs meet state and local education standards and that state education agencies receive 8 percent of the state's training allocation to coordinate programs.

"A major goal of the conference will be to convince employment and training administrators that the schools can be an important part of their training programs," Mr. Martin said.

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