School-to-Work Bill Set for House-Senate Conference

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The Senate last week passed the proposed "school-to-work opportunities act,'' setting the stage for a House-Senate conference on the Clinton Administration's plan to help ease young people's transition from education to employment.

The Senate approved S 1361 by a vote of 62 to 31.

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, noted that lawmakers had made changes, but said they "do not alter the basic design of the bill as proposed by the Administration nor its essential elements.''

The legislation would provide states and communities with seed money--$300 million in fiscal 1995--for programs that include both school-based and work-based learning, as well as activities to connect the two.

In a compromise amendment worked out between Democrats and Republicans, the Senate eliminated a requirement that students be provided with paid work experiences. Instead, funding priority would be given to programs that include a paid, work-based component.

Some Senators had expressed concerns that small businesses, in particular, could not afford to offer students paid work.

The Senate bill also authorizes the program for five years, instead of the eight years approved by the House, which approved its version of the bill, HR 2884, in November.

The Senate version would cap funding at $400 million in fiscal years 1996 and 1997, $330 million in fiscal 1998, and $220 million in fiscal 1999, while the House did not approve specific authorization amounts.

Although both bills encourage funding school-to-work programs in high-poverty areas, the House set aside money for this purpose, and the Senate did not.

'Compounds Deficiencies'

The Senate bill would give funding priority to applications that show the greatest level of collaboration between governors and their chief state school officers. Both the House and Senate bills would require state education agencies to approve those portions of state plans that are under their jurisdiction.

The Senate last week adopted an amendment by Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum, the ranking Republican on the Labor and Human Resources Committee, to make it easier for states to coordinate their school-to-work funds with those received under the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act and the Job Training Partnership Act.

Even so, Ms. Kassebaum voted against the bill.

"My opposition is based on my conviction that it compounds rather than corrects the deficiencies of current federal job-training efforts,'' she said on the Senate floor. "Just consider the fact that we already have 154 separate job-training programs on the books. By passing this bill, we will have 155.''

Earlier this month, the Labor and Education departments released details on the selection criteria for the first implementation grants to be disbursed under the program, which is to be launched under existing legislative authority during the current fiscal year.

States receiving grants in this first round will be required to distribute 65 percent of their funds as subgrants to local communities. The guidelines appear in the Feb. 3 Federal Register.

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