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House and Senate Work to Keep Perkins Act Alive

By Charles Pekow

Thumbs up for Perkins and thumbs down for the administration’s proposal to wipe it out. The Senate unanimously approved the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2005, while the House Education and the Workforce Committee unanimously approved a similar measure, the Vocational and Technical Education for the Future Act.

If approved, both measures would last six years, with the House authorizing $1.307 billion in fiscal 2006 to cover national, state and local spending under all the bill’s provisions, with no sums specified for the next five years. The Senate bill does not specify any funding.

The legislation would remove most federal control over standards and spending. States would set their own standards in consultation with the Education Department and would contract with local grantees to set performance goals.

Under both bills, states would have to set separate performance indicators for secondary and postsecondary education. Experience showed that some of the indicators for high school didn’t apply to community colleges (such as getting secondary diplomas). While states would have to develop indicators for postsecondary students, the measures differ somewhat between the bills.

The House’s proposal stresses “vocational and technical” skills, staying in school, graduating or transferring to bachelor’s degree programs, employment and placement in nontraditional fields. The Senate bill calls for measuring increased earnings and developing skills aligned with nationally recognized industry standards.

In order to “streamline and target federal funding,” the House bill would eliminate the Tech Prep program, combining it with state funding, while the Senate bill would maintain it.

“History has shown that when you combine funding streams, you lose money over time,” warned Alisha Dixon Hyslop, assistant director of public policy for the Association for Career and Technical Education.

Also, the House bill would increase the percentage of state grants that would go to local programs from 85 percent to 88 percent. States would thus lose 60 percent of their administrative funds, as current law allows them to use 5 percent of their funding for administrative purposes and 10 percent for “leadership” activities.

The Senate bill, however, wouldn’t cut the share states could keep, and would give them more flexibility in using their money — allowing states to pay for data systems, for instance, and removing caps on spending for training in nontraditional fields.

Only the House bill would prohibit federal control of state activities. The Senate would require that the Education Department report on “special populations” and “career clusters” in postsecondary programs when enough data become available, and require the department to fund a national research center at a higher-education institution. The Senate bill would also call for states to involve businesses in their plans, such as by hiring professionals as adjunct faculty.

Under both bills, states would get a year to comply with the new rules.

Democrats in the House committee are supporting the bill. But ranking member George Miller, D-Calif., said, “While I will support this bill, I remain concerned that it fails to address two critical issues: the bill eliminates the separate authorization for the Tech Prep program and cuts state administrative funding far below what states need to carry out the new responsibilities that have been added to the bill.”

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