Red-Tape Concerns Raised on Federal High School Aid

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A new $100 million program aimed at helping high schools better prepare students for college and high-tech careers is getting a divided reaction from advocates worried its value could be undercut by the federal strings and lengthy application form.

The program, called Youth CareerConnect, which President Barack Obama first sketched out in his State of the Union Address, appears to be a mix between the Race to the Top and the Investing in Innovation programs. But it will be operated by the U.S. Department of Labor, not the U.S. Department of Education.

Between 25 and 40 grants will be awarded next year for high schools that team up with colleges and employers. The grants will range in size from $2 million to $7 million. Just as with the i3 competition, winners will have to secure private matching funds of at least 25 percent to get their grant.

Awards are expected to be made in early 2014 so schools can implement their winning plans during the 2014-15 school year. Applicants must include, at a minimum, a local education agency, an entity such as a state or local workforce investment board, an employer, and an institution of higher education. To put it in perspective, these are not huge grants. The 2013 i3 grants—designed to find and scale up the most innovative education practices—ranged from $3 million to $20 million.

The high school grants will be paid for with revenue from the Labor Department's H1-B visa program, which helps attract highly skilled workers to the country.

Funding the high school program at just $100 million and using Labor Department money is a bit of a workaround on the administration's part. The program was originally proposed at $300 million and was supposed to be run by the Education Department. But even the Senate appropriations committee, which is controlled by Democrats, couldn't find the money this year.

Concerns Raised

But some lawmakers, who do not need to approve the program since it will be financed using discretionary dollars, see the administration's approach as an end-run around Congress.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House education committee, said at a Nov. 19 hearing he was "discouraged" by the administration's move to create the program without more congressional consultation.

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And the proposal is getting raised eyebrows among advocacy organizations. The AASA, the School Superintendents Association, would rather see new resources for career and technical education funneled to the main federal program financing those activities, including the $1 billion Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education program.

And the American Association for Career and Technical Education wonders how many high schools will have the time and resources to tackle the more than 80-page application, which asks schools to detail their plans for coaching and advising students, engaging employers, and marrying academic and career studies, among other criteria.

"It's a pretty heavy haul in the short amount of time people have to apply," said Alisha Hyslop, the director of government relations for the career and technical education association. "Folks are already going to have to have a lot of things in place and a lot of grant-writing resources."

That means the money isn't likely to provide incentives for new activity; instead, it will likely help sustain and expand projects already in place, she said.

Hyslop is also concerned that there is no special preference for rural applicants, who often don't have the resources to hire full-time grant-writers.

Still, she added, "It will definitely build capacity in the schools that win the grants."

Vol. 33, Issue 13, Page 26

Published in Print: December 4, 2013, as Red-Tape Concerns Raised on H.S. Aid
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