Senate Passes Vocational Education Bill

March 10, 2005

The Senate on Thursday approved its first update to vocational education law since 1998, aiming to demand more results from schools that receive federal money.

The nation's vocational education law, known as the Perkins Act, is up for renewal. The $1.3 billion program amounts to a small percentage of overall spending on career and technical education, but states count on the money to update their courses and expand access.

In his budget proposal for fiscal 2006, beginning Oct. 1, President Bush has called for the elimination of federal vocational programs, saying they have not been academically effective. But Congress disagrees.

Under the Senate bill, states would have to create model sequences of coordinated high school and college courses, and schools would have to offer at least one of those sequences.

States could withhold money from schools that fail to meet performance goals for at least two straight years, similar to an approach used for many schools under No Child Left Behind.

The Senate approved the bill 99-0 one day after the legislation cleared committee review.

``For many students, understanding how they will use the skills they learn can mean the difference between completing a high school degree and dropping out,'' said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee. ``For others, it means greater investment in their studies than they might otherwise have.''

The House plans to consider a similar measure soon. The two bills differ on such issues as state administrative costs and whether individual vocational programs ought to be merged.

Almost half of high school students and about one-third of college students make vocational programs a major part of their studies, from auto repair to health care.