Vocational Education

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With the proposed Workforce Investment Partnership Act expected to reach the U.S. Senate floor soon, sponsors of the bill are negotiating behind the scenes to resolve issues that could prevent its passage.

The bill, S 1186, is the Senate's version of legislation that would replace the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education and Applied Technology Act of 1990. While the Perkins Act dealt only with vocational education, the Senate bill also would govern federal job-training programs.

Congress has tried unsuccessfully for five years to agree on a new vocational education bill.

One contentious issue is whether states should be allowed to merge federal job-training and vocational education funds, or the money should be kept separate.

Education groups, including the American Vocational Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, would prefer that vocational education dollars be governed by their own legislation.

But if vocational education and job-training programs must be administered by the same bill, then the funding streams should be kept separate so that money for vocational education doesn't get diverted to programs for adults, the education groups argue.

The latest version of the bill, which was revised slightly since the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee reported it favorably in October, takes that concern into account, said Charles Boesel, a spokesman for Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, the primary sponsor for S 1186.

"There is some fine-tuning of language to make sure the streams of money are separate," Mr. Boesel said.

By making the bill more pleasing to education groups, its sponsors made it less attractive to the State and Local Workforce Coalition, a group that includes the National Governors' Association. The coalition favors merging federal funding for job-training and vocational education.

"States should have the flexibility in making stronger linkages between the vocational education and the employment and training systems within a state," said Patricia Sullivan, the director of education legislation for the National Governors' Association.

If the Senate passes S 1186, a conference committee would have to resolve the differences between it and HR 1853, the House bill for reauthorizing the Perkins Act.

The House version governs vocational education programs, but not job training.

--MARY ANN ZEHR [email protected]

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