One day after a U.S. Senate panel drafted legislation to extend federal vocational education programs for six years, the full Senate passed the measure by a 99 to 0 vote on Thursday.
The Senate's swift and overwhelming approval of S. 250 suggests strong support for the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, even though President Bush proposed eliminating spending on the Perkins program in his budget for the 2006 fiscal year.
"The American economy is in the midst of a skills revolution, making a quality education more important than ever," Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), who heads the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement. "Some estimates suggest that 60 percent of the jobs created in the next decade will require skills that only 20 percent of workers today possess. The Perkins Act is a critical piece of a comprehensive effort to train American workers to fill the good jobs being created."
Community colleges receive about 40 percent of the $1.3 billion that the government spends on vocational education under the Perkins act each year. The measure approved by the Senate Thursday would keep the programs largely intact. Unlike a version of the bill that the Senate considered last year, which would have allowed four-year institutions to tap into the vocational education funds, this measure would restrict the funds to community colleges.
The one major higher-education related difference between the Senate bill and a competing measure approved Wednesday by the House Education and the Workforce Committee is that the House bill would eliminate the separate stream of funds for the Tech-Prep program, which gives students a technical education during two years of high school and two years of community college. If the full House approves the measure as it now stands, a panel of House and Senate negotiators will have to hammer out that and any other variations in the measures.