- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

The House yesterday rejected one of President Bush’s top budget priorities by refusing to combine a popular $1.3 billion vocational-education grant program with the administration’s No Child Left Behind initiative.

With a 419-9 vote, the House joined the Senate in keeping the Perkins vocational- and technical-school program as a separate categorical grant requirement, which for the time being foiled the administration’s aim to expand the education act to public high schools across the country.

The education act requires reading and math testing in grades three through eight to measure student proficiency and local school reports to parents of the percentage of students whose achievement is below grade level.

The administration wanted to roll the $1.3 billion from the Perkins program into the education act, so states would have funding to apply its accountability provisions in grades nine through 12, as well.

Perkins funds can be used for high-school counseling programs that encourage students to explore career options and occupationally relevant curriculum materials and equipment for shop courses and learning labs.

In 1998, the program shifted away from its historic emphasis on preparing high school graduates for semiskilled jobs. Instead, the emphasis was placed on preparation for high-skilled jobs, traditional job-training assistance and advanced postsecondary vocational and technical education.

But the Perkins program is “wildly popular with members on both sides of the aisle,” Rep. John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican and chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said during floor debate.

Mr. Boehner said he had no doubt that reauthorization of categorical funding by the bill through 2011 “will, in fact, happen.” A similar bill passed the Senate by a 99-0 vote in March. Both bills head for House-Senate conference before a final bill is shipped to the president for his signature.

However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) called on Congress yesterday “to make changes in conference that would ensure accountability for federal funds” and that state grants are used “to improve student achievement and graduation rates for all career- and technical-education students.”

The OMB said federal funding also should “improve job prospects, degree or certificate attainment, and earnings for postsecondary students.” Almost half of high school and one-third of college students emphasize vocational studies.

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