Congress Envisions Pivotal Role for Schools in Job Training

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Washington--Educators would be given a pivotal new role in improving the Job Training Partnership Act's services for poorly skilled youths and adults, under legislation awaiting floor action in both the House and Senate.

With strong backing from the Labor Department, S 543 and HR 2039 would mandate more intensive training in basic-education, job, and other skills for youths and adults than the current program provides.

In addition, the bills call for enlisting educators in the development of local assessment programs that would map out specific education and training strategies for each JTPA participant similar to the individualized learning plans used in special education.

The bills represent the first major Congressional overhaul of JTPA's $1.4-billion basic-training program. Both proposals attempt to answer critics' charges that performance incentives in the current program have led many service-delivery areas to recruit relatively skilled youths and adults in order to meet job-placement goals.

The bills would narrow program eligibility, expand youth training, and increase coordination between schools and the private-industry councils that administer local JTPA funds.

"We think it is very important that job-training programs focus more on education skills," said Cheryl Smith, staff director for the Senate Employment and Productivity Subcommittee. "Probably the number-one thing we heard from businesses across the country is that they're having a hard time finding people with basic skills. We need to ensure the focus is more on basic skills and not just narrow training for an occupation."

To reach that goal, JTPA programs as revised by both the House and Senate bills would tap educators for assistance in participant assessments, basic-skills program design, and referrals.

In addition, the programs would also share resources with the schools for expanded services, such as jointly funded alternative schools, according to Raymond Uhalde, administrator of the strategic-planning and policy-development office in the Labor Department's Employment and Training Administration.

Together with added influence in local JTPA planning, schools also should see "extra resources, with a workplace perspective," Mr. Uhalde said. "We see a mutual partnership process between JTPA and schools."

Along with the increased outreach to schools, the bills also call for an expanded youth-training program under JTPA, which currently focuses its youth efforts on summer work programs. Both S 543 and HR 2039 would create separate youth ti tles under JTPA's block-grant training programs.

The bills' new year-round programs would cater to youths both in and out of school. In an effort to reach those most in need, the measures would set stricter eligibility require s than under current law.

S 543, approved in 1989 by the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, would require that 90 percent of all youth participants be poor and be shown to face at least one employment barrier, such as parenthood, low basic skills, or welfare dependency. All participants under age 18 without a high- school diploma or its equivalent would be required to return to school before beginning training under the plan.

HR 2039, approved by the House Education and Labor Committee in August, would limit youth-program eligibility to low-income young people and require that half of the out- of-school participants demonstrate additional employment barriers. Among in-school youths, the bill would require that students with employment barriers get top priority for enrollment.

Lawmakers also are continuing to negotiate changes in the JTPA funding formula, with the aim of basing state and local funding more on measurements of poverty and less on unemployment rates.

While lawmakers envision a bigger role for educators--as well as local welfare agencies and other community-based groups--the legislation that ultimately emerges from the Congress may force schools to share one source of JTPA funding provided under current law.

HR 2039 as approved by the Education and Labor Committee retains a provision requiring that 8 percent of state grants be devoted to coordinated JTPA-education efforts.

The Senate bill, however, includes a Labor Department proposal to replace the state set-aside with a 5 percent set-aside at the national level for discretionary coordination grants.

To win such grants, governors could be required to submit plans describing how they would use the federal funds to link welfare, training, school, and other services for programs aimed at disadvantaged youths and adults.

"We see the 8 percent set-aside as it is currently structured almost as a limiting factor," Ms. Smith of the Senate panel said. "We want to build in institutional change so that the system is structured to bring together educators and job trainers." Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, chairman of the House panel, has indicated that he would like to see a compromise with the DOL plan.

Labor Department officials and JTPA advocates said the required school involvement in the coordination set-aside and the increased role for schools in the expanded training programs should give educators more clout--and new challenges--in local efforts to prepare youths for work.

Educators would likely be called to help implement expanded programs for dropouts, who already are "school-phobic," said Robert Knight, president of the National Association of Private Industry Councils.

"The refocused emphasis on out-of-school youths is going to be a tough challenge for everyone, and most kids will need remediation," Mr. Knight added. "So there's an opportunity for somebody to get in there and do that job."

Vol. 10, Issue 2

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