Educators Praise Aim of New Voc.-Ed. Bill, But Urge More Flexibility

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Washington--Educators and lobbyists, testifying last week before the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education, suggested a series of modifications to the bill that is intended to ''expand, improve, and intensify" the nation's vocational-technical training system.

The Vocational Technical Education Act of 1983 (HR 4164), which will provide new authorization for the federal vocation effort through 1987, was introduced in the House on Oct. 19 by subcommittee chairman Carl D. Perkins, Democrat of Kentucky, and 22 other representatives, with the backing of the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges, the American Vocational Association, and the National Association of State Directors of Vocational Education.

The proposal would authorize $1.6 billion in federal spending in fiscal 1985 to upgrade existing vocational-technical education programs and to "develop new programs in order to meet the needs of our nation's existing and future work force for marketable skills, and for skills needed in the work of the home." That amount is more than double the $728-million expenditure authorized for vocational education in 1983.

The bill would restructure the current system of allocating federal money to support vocational-education programs, channeling a larger share of the federal funds to institutions providing postsecondary and adult vocational education. Unlike the Reagan Administration's plan to support vocational-technical education through a block-grants program, the bill would continue cate-gorical funding for disadvantaged young people, minorities, women, the handicapped, and adults in need of training and retraining.

According to Gene Bottoms, executive director of the American Vocational Association and one of the authors of the bill, the legislation "has been so designed that federal dollars can be more closely connected to the national purposes." He added that "HR 4164 represents a modified block grant. Congress is given the flexibility to appropriate more or less dollars for a given purpose."

More Flexible Program

That approach provides for a more flexible program, "in direct contrast to current set-aside provisions, which require that a set amount go to the specific activities," Mr. Bottoms said. "This enables the federal government and Congress to be more responsive to areas of greatest need."

Other educators and lobbyists who presented testimony on the first day of the three-day hearings generally supported HR 4164. But they proposed changes to help ensure that funding levels for the programs would be adequate; to simplify state administration and reduce unnecessary federal guidelines; to revise proposed measures for program evaluation; and to include provisions for services such as guidance counseling.

"We are compelled to express concerns not about the aims of this bill, but about some of the administrative requirements it contains to carry them out," said Joyce Holmes Benjamin, chairman of the governmental-affairs committee of the National Association of State Boards of Education. Ms. Benjamin said that the bill's requirement for the establishment of state committees and advisory groups would "restrict states from tailoring their programs to their specific needs."

"We urge that each state be permitted to choose how to best spend these monies--and that each state be judged by the outcomes resulting from the expenditures of funds, not by how many new committees it has created or the specific areas it has funded according to a plan established in Washington," Ms. Benjamin said.

Noting that in past years much of the federal vocational-education funding has failed to reach the classroom, a few witnesses suggested that the legislation stipulate that 95 percent of appropriated federal dollars must be passed on to the schools.

"The requirement would ensure that funding sent to each state was actually spent on programming and would minimize the dollars that could be held or used for administrative purposes," said Michael Casserly, legislative associate for the Council of the Great City Schools.

Mr. Casserly and Linda Tarr-Whelan, director of government relations for the National Education Association, urged the lawmakers to change the legislation to include also "an appropriate nationally established" funding formula to be used within each state.

Many educators presenting testimony expressed concern that the evaluation procedures outlined in the bill were too closely tied with occupational--rather than educational--goals.

"Since the evaluation of local programs can have a significant bearing on the design of programs, as well as on which local applicants ac-tually receive grants, great care needs to be taken in dealing with the evaluation section of the bill," said Dr. M. Joan Parent, president of the National School Boards Association.

She said that while the evaluation section "does tie local program evaluation to the statement of purposes," the nsba is concerned that ''the specific criteria which are set forth are too occupationally directed--and do not adequately reflect the full range of other secondary goals, such as reducing drop-out rates, improvement on test scores in the academic areas, and admissions into community college and four-year programs and improvement in general competencies."

"Using job placement as the primary criterion for judging program success mitigates against secondary schools because given exactly equal training, 17-year-olds are less likely to find employment than 30-year-olds," according to Phale Hale, director of federal programs for the school district of Rochester, N.Y., who represented the American Association of School Administrators at the hearing.

Moreover, Mr. Hale said, using job-placement statistics as an evaluation criterion "also means that a student, motivated by success in a welding course, who decides to become a metallurgist would be judged a failure for going to college."

Broad Mandate Provided

The statutory authority for the program, which was established during the Kennedy Administration under the Vocational Education Act of 1963, is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30, 1984.

The 1963 legislation "provided a broad mandate to the states to set about expanding opportunities so that youths and adults could have access to programs. ... And it increased authorizations for federal funding to help make this possible," said Mr. Bottoms of the vocational association.

Since the adoption of the 1963 act, total annual spending for public vocational education has increased from $284 million to more than $7 billion. Federal expenditures have increased from $51 million to $728 million annually, and the number of students enrolled in programs has quadrupled, according to Mr. Bottoms.

In 1963, only 4 million students were enrolled in vocational programs, with fewer than 1.5 million preparing for employment in occupations other than agriculture. Today, more than 16 million students are enrolled in the programs, with more than 6-million enrolled in postsecondary and adult programs, Mr. Bottoms said.

In spite of the dramatic growth in programs and the increased accessibility of vocational education, the current authorizing legislation needs to be revised to meet the new demands of an economy and a society that have changed, Mr. Bottoms and other educators said.

"The diversity of the student body in public schools, the changing economy, tightened school finances and the many competing missions of the public schools, frame the issues regarding the reauthorization of vocational education," said Mr. Hale, speaking for the school administrators' association.

'Retooling' Needed

"Schools are under intense pressure to better serve a diverse and changing student body, although funds are scarce. This situation complicates vocational education, which must also cope with retooling equipment, facilities, and instructors to meet the needs of a changing economy," he said.

Mr. Bottoms added that "instructional programs in almost all occupational fields need new equipment--a need most obvious and most urgent in technical occupations--but they also need updated curricula and instructional staff whose knowledge and skills have been brought current with changes in the workplace."

Mr. Bottoms added that many young people are unable to take advantage of vocational programs because they have "severe educational deficiencies." Though there has been legislation focusing on their special needs, "the amount of dollars provided ... has been inadequate. The federal investment in these students comes to only $50 per disadvantaged individual, contrasted to $625 per individual under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act," he said.

According to Joe D. Mills, president of the American Vocational Association and of the National Association of State Directors of Vocation al Education, the new legislation addresses these needs, providing "a focus for the federal role" in vocational-technical education as well as "new priorities of federal assistance to youths with special needs" and "provisions for adult training."

The legislation, he said, also "enhances the linkage between the private sector and vocational education and refines the planning process so that state and local agencies and institutions can address local and national goals."

A bill supported by the Reagan Administration and introduced into the Senate by Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah, would combine vocational- and adult-education programs in the form of block grants to the states. Key aides to the House and Senate education subcommittees said last month that the plan is not expected to receive much support. (See Education Week, Oct. 12, 1983.) An earlier vocational-education bill introduced in the House by Representative Perkins (HR 14) would simply extend the current law for another year.

Vol. 03, Issue 10

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