Educators Question J.T.P.A. Strategy

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St. Louis school-district officials have decided not to accept money for youth programs under the federal Job Training Partnership Act because they would have been required to make significant--and, they said, harmful--changes in existing pre-employment and training efforts for their high-school students.

St. Louis may be only the first of a number of districts to reject or limit their involvement in the new training program. As a result of the program's reduced funding and tougher performance standards, district officials in several cities have begun questioning its direction and how well the schools will fare under the new restrictions.

Susan Katzman, supervisor for career education in St. Louis, said that if the district had agreed to make changes in the program, it would have "negated every concept we've been trying to sell."

For at least the past four years, according to Ms. Katzman, the school district has tried to provide students with broad-based pre-employment services with "a heavy curriculum infusion." This year, however, the district would have had to shift its emphasis and concentrate on finding private-sector jobs for at least 40 percent of the students once the classroom training had been completed.

Federal Guidelines

Under federal guidelines for the Job Training Partnership Act, which on Oct. 1 replaced the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, agencies that provide training programs for youths must have a job-placement rate of at least 41 percent; a "positive-termination" rate of at least 82 percent, which can be met if program participants are either employed, back in school, or in the armed forces; and an expense of no more than $4,900 per participant.

This year, the Reagan Administration has provided about $2.8 billion, to be spread out over a nine-month period, to state and territorial governments to support job-training programs for youths and adults. In October, when the program will begin operating on a full-year cycle, the same amount of money will be used to finance programs for about a million people, the Labor Department announced earlier this month.

Although many state and local officials are still in the process of implementing the new program, others have already contracted with local organizations and have established the program's training priorities. For the first time, local training organizations, including school districts, will be held accountable for the program's effectiveness in training disadvantaged youths for employment.

In Pittsburgh, school officials negotiated a $282,000 contract with the city to run a pre-employment training program for about 200 in-school youths. During the first week of the program, about 27 of the students dropped out, according to Fred A. Monaco, the district's career-development manager.

Until this year, according to Mr. Monaco, the district has been able to place students in jobs with nonprofit agencies and pay them with federal stipends. Now, he said, students must be placed in private-sector jobs because their wages are no longer subsidized.

The standards, Mr. Monaco contends, are "so restrictive as to what you can do [that] we're losing the kids." "We've had a lot of early dropouts," he explained, "because we don't have the work experience.''

"We're trying to cooperate and we want [the program] to succeed," Mr. Monaco said. But if the program does not meet federal standards, he explained, the district, which is already struggling with a budget deficit, could end up absorbing some of the program costs.

Despite the problems with the program's concept, Mr. Monaco maintains that the the schools' relationship with the city, which is the local JTPA sponsor, "is excellent."

In New York City, school officials are limiting their recruitment efforts to high-school seniors who are not planning to go to college to increase their chances of meeting the placement standards, according to Michael Racanelli, assistant director for the district's work-experience program.

But with only about $150,000 in JTPA funds, Mr. Racanelli said, the program will consist of hiring staff to provide training for about 300 students. "It's not that it can't be done," he added, it's that "the task is just more difficult."

Thomas Peters, coordinator of youth-employment programs for the Chicago Public Schools, said school officials had expected program changes but they did not forsee the extent of those changes.

This year, the district will receive up to $443,000 to provide one week of inservice training for about 475 students; under the terms of the arrangement, officials must find jobs for about 350 students. Last year, the school district received roughly $1 million to administer an in-school job-training program for students.

The St. Louis school district, according to Ms. Katzman, could have focused its program on training for high-school seniors.

But that would have put their program directly in competition with another program that is currently operating in the schools, called "Jobs for Missouri's Graduates," she said.

"I feel strongly about not competing with groups that work with seniors," Ms. Katzman added. "To me, it didn't make sense to duplicate services to the same kids."

For now, Ms. Katzman explained, the St. Louis school board has agreed to support the district's career-exploration and transitional-services program. "We've fared a little better [than some other districts] because our program has not been based on work experience, which would mean stipends and people to supervise," she said.

Despite the decision not to run an in-school program, the district is hoping to secure future JTPA funds if the federal guidelines are relaxed once a track record has been established, according to Ms. Katzman.

The St. Louis program attempts to teach students about the need for good work habits early. "Where placement fits in," the official added, "is almost icing on the cake if you're going to teach kids to be productive workers, college students, or military personnel."

Vol. 03, Issue 18, Pages 10, 15

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