Bucking a White House plan to halt the flow of federal dollars to the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, the Republican-led House last week overwhelmingly passed a bill to reauthorize the popular law.
The bipartisan measure sailed through the House on May 4 by a vote of 416-9. In March, the Senate approved a similar bill, 99-0.
“I am hopeful that [this action] will forever put an end to this idea of the administration that it is somehow going to zero out this legislation, or that it is going to take this money for some other initiative,” said Rep. George Miller of California, the top Democrat on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.
Republicans also emphasized the widespread support for the vocational aid.
“Vocational education represents one of the first education laws at the federal level, with the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917,” said Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., the chief Republican author of the latest legislation. “HR 366 seeks to build on reforms made in past reauthorizations and seeks to enhance this popular program to ensure its success in years to come.”
House and Senate lawmakers now must reconcile differences in their bills.
In his fiscal 2006 budget request, President Bush proposed shifting the $1.3 billion now allotted for Perkins programs to his $1.5 billion High School Initiative—which would include expanded testing and a new high school intervention fund.
“The president and Secretary [Margaret] Spellings have outlined their priorities, and we look forward to working with the Congress to achieve high school reform,” Susan Aspey, a Department of Education spokeswoman, said when asked about the House’s action last week.
‘I Have No Doubts’
Earlier this year, Secretary Spellings made clear her displeasure with the Senate and House bills. The House bill underwent only minor changes last week. In a March 9 letter to the House, the day the Perkins reauthorization won education committee approval, she said the measure “would continue to reauthorize, with little change, the very programs that have been ineffective in improving the quality of education” for career and technical education students.
The White House Office of Management and Budget reiterated those concerns last week. “The administration did not propose reauthorization of the [law] because, despite decades of significant federal spending, the current program is not adequately preparing our students to participate in today’s competitive workforce,” the budget office’s May 4 statement says. If Congress reauthorizes the law, it adds, lawmakers should make changes to “ensure accountability for federal funds and ensure that federal funds are directed to activities” that improve student achievement, graduation rates, and other outcomes.
But both House Republicans and Democrats said the House bill would provide increased accountability and a greater focus on achievement.
An analysis by the Washington-based Association for Career and Technical Education highlights several provisions. States would be required to make “continuous and substantial” improvement in students’ academic and technical skills, says the group, which generally backs the bill. The measure would align academic standards with the No Child Left Behind Act. Also, it would require local communities that receive Perkins funding to establish performance indicators and improvement plans for their programs. And states would be required to evaluate local programs annually against set performance levels.
The House bill would authorize $1.3 billion in spending under the law in fiscal 2006. Some Democrats, citing a GOP budget blueprint narrowly passed by Congress last month, questioned whether adequate funding would really materialize in the appropriations process. But Rep. John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, the chairman of the House education committee, insisted it would.
“I have no doubts, no doubts that the funding … that is authorized in this bill will, in fact, happen, just to set the record straight,” he said on the House floor last week.
Some Democrats identified lingering concerns about its contents.
“First, the bill rightly strengthens accountability for state and local programs, but at the same time it cuts by 60 percent the funds that states can use for that very purpose,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California, the ranking Democrat on the Education Reform Subcommittee.
She also lamented language in the House bill that would merge the $106 million Tech Prep program—which underwrites a planned sequence of study in a technical field—with state grants for vocational education, fearing that change would cause states to lose their focus on Tech Prep. The Senate bill would keep the programs separate.
Rep. Castle defended the proposed change, and sought to assure Ms. Woolsey that states would still have to set aside comparable money for Tech Prep.