Human-Resource Panels Take Hold in States, NGA Says

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Congress may not approve a block grant to consolidate federal vocational-education and training programs this year, but at least 29 states will be ready if it ever does.

Hoping to get a jump on the block-grant strategy that Congress was pushing, many states have created "human-resource investment councils" to streamline and coordinate the myriad programs that prepare young people and adults for the workforce.

The councils typically are charged with identifying workforce needs, reviewing the use of federal and state funds and services, and devising ways to evaluate job-training and school-to-work programs.

Only 17 of the 29 states had such councils two years ago, according to a survey released last week by the National Governors' Association. In another seven states, councils are in the works.

Those efforts may slow down in the absence of block-grant legislation, predicted Martin Simon, the director of training and employment programs for the NGA. But, he argued, "the reasons that motivated states to do this in the first place will prevail"--shrinking resources for education-and-training programs and the need to bring order to a fragmented system.

Federal law first authorized the creation of human-resource investment councils in 1992 in revisions to the Job Training Partnership Act. The act provides money to prepare poor adults and youths for new jobs. But the appeal of the councils grew as federal funds dwindled and block grants loomed on the horizon.

The bill that would lump funding for vocational education and other job-training efforts passed a conference committee but appeared to lack support to move it to the House or Senate floor. Many observers predict that lawmakers will recess this fall without approving the new block-grant strategy. While that may take some of the wind out of the sails of the push for new coordination councils, the panels may find that their practical purpose outweighs the changing political winds.

"Having a structure like this to bring together education, job training, and economic-development policy continues to make sense," said Mr. Simon.

Vol. 15, Issue 41

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