What the Governors Think

Article excerpt

Pending legislation to overhaul federal funding for education and training programs gives considerably more power to state governors. Under the House's CAREERS Act and the Senate's Workforce Development Act, governors would have more say in development of new state plans for career preparation and more control over distribution of federal money, which would come in the form of block grants.

So what will happen to programs that currently enjoy funding "set-asides" under federal law? Will consumer and homemaking education, tech prep and single-parent programs continue to be funded? Could they get even more money? To whom will governors turn for advice programs that should be included in state plan for workforce education?

AVA surveyed the governors of all 50 states and the former trust territories about their position on block grants and their priorities for education spending; 16 responded (see list at left).

Oregon Gov. John A. Kitzhaber did not fill out the questionnaire, saying the choices did not adequately describe the state's position. But he directed his education advisor to write a letter pledging his support for block grants and for school-to-work reforms.

"Oregon will not analyze the block grants for staffing, funding allocations or elimination of programs based on the current program models," he wrote. "Changing to block grant legislation will not change our school-to-work infrastructure development or comprehensive education reform."

In most cases, the governors' education advisors completed the surveys in their behalf.

Support for the concept of block grants does not appear to be partisan. While the only survey respondents who said they disapprove are Democrats, five other Democratic respondents said they approve of block grants.

Republican support for block grants was the only consensus we found. The survey seems to underscore the common-sense assumption that the effect of block grant legislation on state education efforts will vary from governor to governor.

This is not a scientific survey, and we do not claim to present national findings on governors' priorities for education spending. But the responses we received, which represent a broad geographic sampling, suggest:

* strong support for tech prep, integration, employability skills, computer/technology skills, basic skills and more rigorous academic courses;

* strong support for the involvement of businesses and a collaborative process for devising state education and training plans; and

* less recognition and/or support for vocational student organizations, family and consumer sciences education and sex equity efforts.

A summary of the responses follows.

Support for block grants over categorical funding for education programs

Seventy-five percent of the respondents said they approve of Congress' plans to consolidate existing education and training programs into block grants. All but three of those supporters said they would prefer block grants even if appropriations mean less money, indicating they were willing to accept a smaller check from the federal government in exchange for more decision-making power and the ability to streamline bureaucracy and reduce duplication of programs. West Virginia offered a conditional "yes"--if funding cuts are not too steep and if there is sufficient flexibility to allow states to improve their efficiency.

The governors of Kentucky, Nebraska and Guam said they would withdraw their support for block grants if overall funding would be less than what they now receive.

Four governors--those from Maryland, Florida, Louisiana and American Samoa-said they prefer categorical funding. These opponents of block grants, all Democrats, said they feared big cuts in federal funding. Speaking for Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles, education advisor Michael Brawer added that "politics will dramatically affect disbursement of funds. …