Conferees, Approving Voc.-Ed. Bill, Adopt New Formula for Targeting Aid

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House and Senate conferees last week approved a compromise vocational-education reauthorization bill that would target larger federal grants to regional and district programs with an emphasis on academics and technology.

The final bill, HR 7, would nearly double the program's funding ceiling, from the current $938 million to $1.7 billion in fiscal 1991. It also would increase the basic state-grant authorization from $850.8 million to $1.36 billion.

The bill would also allow states to reserve 13.5 percent of the grants for administration, technical assistance, and staff training and leadership, down from the current law's 20 percent set aside.

The conference upheld an untested House formula for intrastate distribution of basic program grants, but erased a Senate plan that would have required states to spend at least 65 percent of their grants for secondary schools.

The new intrastate formula for secondary schools would be based 70 percent on a district's population of children eligible for Chapter 1 programs, 20 percent on the number of students served in handicapped-education programs, and 10 percent on enrollment.

For postsecondary schools, funding would be based on each college's enrollment of Pell Grant and Bureau of Indian Affairs grant recipients, with states given the option of submitting their own formula if it better targets the federal funds.

States that spend at least 85 percent of their funds on either secondary or postsecondary programs would be able to award the remainder through discretionary grants.

Lawmakers hope to move the bill to the full House and Senate by the end of this week.

New Direction

HR 7 marks a departure for federal vocational-education legislation, which traditionally has left states wide latitude in deploying funds dedicated largely to expanded vocational services for poor and handicapped youths. The conference committee's agreement would channel most funds to local schools with mandates to incorporate academic and high-technology skills geared toward available jobs.

Rather than fixing specific set asides, the bill would require assurances from districts and states that the aid was being used to serve the disabled and disadvantaged. State vocational-education plans also would have to be approved by state coordinators of Chapter 1, handicapped, and limited-English-proficient education programs.

House lawmakers, who first drafted their five-year vocational-education reform plan more than a year ago, called the latest version of HR 7 an improvement over current law. But House Education and Labor Committee leaders said the final compromise in some ways toned down their intended message that vocational education must be vastly upgraded to meet modern labor demands.

"We are not properly equipping the people coming out of our high schools for the jobs that are available," said Representative William D. Ford, Democrat of Michigan. "A strong back and a weak mind don't get you a job anymore."

Mr. Ford said HR 7 should alert state and local vocational educators that wide-ranging reforms are needed. "We're trying to get education, and particularly people in fields like voc-ed, to wake up and smell the cof8fee, but it's quite difficult," he said.

Debate Over Name

Such resistance to change was evident in the debate over the new law's name. After considering several options, lawmakers settled on the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act, incorporating both the "applied technology" appellation adopted by the House and the more traditional "vocational education" title preferred by the Senate.

The bill, which would take effect next July, would force many states to leap into action. Within two years of enactment, states would be required to develop student performance standards. An accompanying assessment system would gauge progress in areas including basic skills, industrial competency, decisionmaking, and problem solving.

The assessment also would measure local programs' pertinence and scrutinize curricula and equipment based on workforce needs. State boards of education would set improvement timetables if programs do not meet the standards.

Meanwhile, states would report to the Education Department on their integration of academic and vocational courses, job placement increases, and coordination between secondary and postsecondary programs.

Answering criticism that the 1984 Perkins Act spread federal resources too thinly to effect change, the bill would set a $15,000 minimum for secondary grants and a $50,000 minimum for postsecondary institutions. It would allow districts to form consortia to qualify for the grants and would waive the minimum for isolated rural districts.

The bill would authorize $175 million annually for grants to encourage "tech-prep" programs tying high-school courses with local college programs, providing a pathway from 11th grade to an associate's degree or certificate. Another $100 million authorization, to be distributed according to the Chapter 1 concentration-grant formula, would fund new facilities and equipment.

Vocational administrators also would be encouraged to seek additional funding under the Job Training Partnership Act so long as the education and training segments of their programs served the same population. Lawmakers, however, stopped short of embracing the House bill's main coordination provision combining state advisory councils for jtpa, vocational, and adult education.

HR 7 would expand homemaker programs to include day care, transportation, and other services for young parents or pregnant teen4agers. Consumer and homemaking programs would be authorized at $38.5 million, a slight increase from this year's level of $34.2 million.

The new bill would also expand vocational education for inmates. Corrections agencies would, for the first time, be included in state counts as a local education agency. The bill also would establish an Office of Correctional Education within the Education Department.

HR 7 would authorize $6 million for a national vocational-education research center. A current contract with the University of California-Berkeley expires after 1992. Other authorizations include $15 million for community-based organizations, $10 million for bilingual vocational programs, $9 million for state advisory councils, and $350,000 for the National Council on Vocational Education.

Vol. 09, Issue 40

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