Administration Revises Voc.-Ed. Proposal
Washington--With expressed eagerness in both branches to settle on terms for reauthorizing federal programs in vocational education this year, the Reagan Administration and the Congress last week each moved to set the process in motion.
The Administration unveiled a new vocational-education reauthorization proposal that differed significantly in concept from previous budget proposals.
At the same time, members of the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education were holding hearings on--and discussing amendments to--a proposal drafted largely by the American Vocational Association and the American Association of Community and Junior Colleges. And in the Senate, members of the Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and the Humanities were fine-tuning a bill drafted by the panel's chairman and ranking minority member in preparation for mark-up later this month.
The resurgence of Administration and Congressional interest has been spurred by the impending expiration of the Vocational Education Act of 1963. The measure lapses on Sept. 30, but under the terms of another education measure, it will be granted an automatic one-year extension if the Congress fails to complete action on a reauthorization bill before lawmakers' expected Oct. 4 adjournment date.
Recent statements and actions by the Administration and education leaders in the Congress indicate, observers say, that all parties are mov-ing in a direction that will continue the federal role in serving handicapped and disadvantaged students in skills-training programs in largely the same manner as at present.
That interest in preserving programs for underserved populations could, some vocational-education specialists say, precipitate a rift between advocacy groups for the handicapped and disadvantaged and representatives of vocational-education programs.
In its previous two budget proposals, the Administration sought to eliminate the set-asides that designated specific amounts for special groups and for consolidating vocational- and adult-education programs into a single block-grants program, with funding at $500 million.
The new proposal would consolidate vocational-education programs only, leaving adult education as a separate categorical program with funding of $100 million. But it would earmark a percentage of each state's block grant for programs that encourage the participation of handicapped and disadvantaged students.
Funding for the entire vocational-education block-grants program, which would also require the states to use their funds to expand or improve existing programs and to support programs that promote "economic development," would be set at $638 million.
Under the Administration's proposal, 5 percent of the total appropriation would support programs of "national significance" and 95 percent of the federal funds would be sent to the states in the form of grants for local distribution. The states would be allowed to retain as much as they need to pay the cost of administering the program.
Each state would be obligated to ensure that school districts use 10 percent of their portion of the grant on programs for handicapped students and 20 percent for educationally disadvantage populations. Of the remaining funds, 30 percent would be used to strengthen existing vocational activities, such as work-study programs, remedial and basic-skills programs, and programs that reduce sex-role stereotyping.
Another 30 percent would support economic-development activities such as retraining dislocated workers and training for new technologies.
"There seems to be a consensus developing and we expect there will be some compromises," said Robert M. Worthington, assistant secretary for vocational and adult education in an interview last week.
"We certainly are willing to discuss [additional changes]," Mr. Worthington added, "but we like the simplicity of our bill. We also think it's important to emphasize that vocational education is a broad-based program that reaches a cross section of the population."
Congressional aides said it is still too early to gauge how the Administration's latest block-grants proposal will be received. Key aides to both the House and Senate education committees said last fall that there was strong sentiment against the block-grants approach for vocational- and adult-education programs. (See Education Week, Oct. 12, 1983.)
Meanwhile, members of the Senate Subcomittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities have been circulating reauthorization proposals of their own in an attempt to generate support for a single measure on which they could all agree.
One such proposal has been drafted by the staff of Senator Robert T. Stafford, Republican of Vermont and chairman of the education subcommittee, and Senator Claiborne Pell, Democrat of Rhode Island and the panel's ranking minority member.
"We're attempting to clearly focus the federal role and define it more sharply than it has been," said Bruce Post, a subcommittee staff member. If the Administration's latest proposal does not adequately clarify the federal role in vocational education, there will be very little support for it in the Senate, he said.
Under the Stafford/Pell proposal, 4 percent of the as yet undetermined total appropriation would be used to support "programs of national significance." The remaining 96 percent would go the states in the form of grants. Of that total, the states would be required to spend 67 percent for "underserved populations."
At least 15 percent of that amount would be spent on programs for handicapped students, 30 percent for disadvantaged students, 20 percent for re-training adult workers, and 1 percent for people in jail. About 34 percent of the states' grants would remain untargeted, according to an outline of the Senate proposal.
About 33 percent of the total state grant would be used for the improvement of existing programs, according to Mr. Post. Of that portion, 75 percent would be targeted for use at the local level, and 25 percent for the support of improvement projects.
According to Mr. Post, states would be allowed to use a portion of their grants to encourage individuals to enter nontraditional occupations.
Beyond the proposal's designated uses, Mr. Post said, the spending priorities would be left to the discretion of the localities.
"We feel we've come up with a proposal that clearly states that in vocational education, as in most programs, the issues of access and equality are important and a major responsibility of the federal government," he continued. "At the same time, we feel a need to provide sufficient support for improvement."
Also last week, the House Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education continued hearings on its vocational-education reauthorization proposal.
The measure was sharply criticized during those hearings by representatives of several advocacy groups for the handicapped. Much of the criticism focused on the proposal's exclusion of programs serving handicapped students from its grants to the states.
The House proposal, which sponsors are calling a "modified block grant," would authorize states to use basic grants for a range of program activities. But its primary emphasis would be on modernizing vocational facilities and developing vocational programs on "new technologies."
Funding for target populations, such as handicapped and disadvantaged students, would be authorized under a separate section of the proposal. The proposed bill requests $1.5 billion in funding for vocational and adult education.
Susan Brody-Hasazi of the Vermont Coalition of the Handicapped argued that under the proposal, funding for programs serving the handicapped would be more vulnerable and therefore should be treated as part of the basic grant program.
In defending the proposed bill, Gene Bottoms, executive director of the ava, pointed to its focus on the modernization and improvement of existing vocational-education programs. He said the inclusion of set-asides for underserved populations would require increasing the appropriation for the program.
Critics of the House reauthorization proposal last week said they support several amendments to the measure that would increase funding for programs serving handicapped students from the current 10-percent set-aside to 15 percent, and return those funds to the basic-grant program. The proposed amendment was drafted at the request of Rep. Austin J. Murphy, Democrat of Pennsylvania, and chairman of the House Subcommittee on Select Education.