On the Block

Article excerpt

This was to be the year of the Perkins Act reauthorization. Instead, 1995 may be the year of its transformation.

In their most sweeping restructuring of federal funding for vocational education since 1917, members of Congress have proposed to repeal the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Act.

On the table now are bills in the House and Senate that would consolidate Perkins and more than 100 other education and training programs into block grants designed to give state governors and local communities more say in how federal tax dollars are spent.

Republicans introduced both the House bill--Consolidated and Reformed Education, Employment and Rehabilitation Systems Act (CAREERS)--and the Senate's Workforce Development Act (WDA). Both had passed their respective committees by late June with mostly bipartisan support.

CAREERS would create four linked, state block grants to deliver youth vocational education and at-risk youth job training, adult education and family literacy, adult job training and vocational rehabilitation services. The WDA proposes a single block grant divided into percentages for education and economic development activities.

Neither bill requires states to fund individual programs that currently have line-item status under the Perkins Act, including consumer-homemaking education and tech prep. Both proposals do mandate that states set up "one-stop delivery systems" for career counseling, labor market information and guidance on providers of education and training.

There are several other structural differences between the proposed legislation and the Perkins Act, but the most significant change will be the amount of money appropriated or vocational education and training programs. Education advocates say that if history is any guide the bottom line will be significantly less federal funding for vocational education.

The School-to-Work Opportunities Act also would be repealed and mixed in with the block grants, although states that already have received five-year implementation grants would continue to be funded under the Senate proposal.

Consolidation fits in with the new Republican majority's philosophy that state governments should be allowed to function with the least amount of federal intrusion. Nonetheless, the scope of the change has surprised even some veteran observers of Congress.

Bret Lovejoy, executive director of the American Vocational Association, says he long expected Congress to produce dramatic reform of the Perkins Act when it came up for reauthorization, but the political shift in Congress drove the decision to scrap the Act altogether.

"Before the 1994 elections we expected the Senate to go Republican, but no one anticipated that the House would do the same," Lovejoy explains. "The policy drive to consolidate was there before, but maybe not the will."

A control issue

Both the House and Senate leaders who introduced the respective bills were clear about their intentions to give governors more power to design workforce development systems that respond to local needs.

"[Our] intent is for governors to take the lead in determining the workforce needs of their states and in designing their statewide systems," reads the report of the House Education and Economic Opportunities Committee, chaired by Rep. William Goodling (R.-PA.).

Thirty-one governors already appoint their entire state boards of education, so new authority may have less of an effect on those school systems than school systems in states where the board of education is elected or only partially appointed by the governor.

Both bills give the governor increased authority but differ greatly in their use of state and local education agencies for decision making on education issues.

CAREERS requires a state-level "collaborative process" that would include business and industry representatives and state agency officials. …