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Bush's Cuts to Voc-Ed Fought

Ohanian Comment: The last paragraph reveals what hurts vocational programs almost as much as money cuts.

Taking away federal dollars may not send vocational education programs to the scrap yard but it would leave a dent.

So local boosters of career- and technical-focused programs, from automotive to veterinary assisting, have opposed President Bush's bid to eliminate the $1.3 billion federal vocational program as part of his 2006 budget proposal.

With Congress on their side, it looks like vocational programs may win out. But the issue isn't settled.

"It would be the most significant effect in a negative manner that I can imagine for vocational students," said Stu Barger, vice president of instruction at Everett Community College.

Bush's proposal would cut federal funding for vocational programs in favor of his broader high school initiative, which includes money to expand standardized testing to more high school grades.

States and school districts would actually have more flexibility in how they spend federal dollars under the plan, said Jim Bradshaw, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education. "If they want to use their money for vocational education, they can do so."

But Sultan High School teacher Russ Dean said he doesn't buy it.

"Having been a farmer, I know what it means to pinch pennies," he said. And vocational programs quickly become a target for school districts trying to stretch their general-fund dollars.

"So much of it is mired in politics, in trying to justify making cuts," Dean said.

Without federal funds, Sultan High's vocational program likely would lose an educational assistant whose time already is stretched thin.

"The loss of that is a critical factor. It's extra eyes for us and extra help for kids," Dean said. "Without a second pair of eyes in the classroom, the potential for risks of accidents goes up. This is really the thing that worries us."

Local educators have defended two fronts of vocational funding known as the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act and a program called Tech Prep.

Three members of the Everett Community College Board of Trustees were in Washington, D.C., recently to attend a legislative conference and lobby for continued support of vocational funding.

EvCC's Perkins grant this year provides more than $355,000 and serves about 3,000 students. In recent years, it has been used to expand the college's nursing and medical assistant programs and provided seed money to start its fire science and emergency medical technician program.

EvCC will receive about $94,000 in Tech Prep money this year. Under Tech Prep, college faculty serve as mentors and help high schools align their technical professional programs with industry and college standards, giving students a chance to earn tuition-free college credits in the process.

The money supports the relationship between EvCC and 18 local high schools, generating 7,127 college credits for high school students enrolled in technical classes last year. It was the highest in the state.

At Edmonds Community College, Tech Prep provided 1,031 tuition-free credits to 154 students. That represented a savings of about $68,000 to the high school students in the Edmonds School District and their families.

"It gives them a jump-start on earning a technical or college degree," said Karen Traversie, EdCC's Tech Prep coordinator.

The South Everett-based Sno-Isle Tech Skills Center, which serves about 1,000 high school juniors and seniors from 42 high schools, would lose about $60,000 in Perkins money.

It is not so much the direct financial hit as the potential indirect loss that worries Steve Burch, the center's director.

Sno-Isle uses the money to upgrade technology and support the career center, which helped students apply and receive more than $300,000 in scholarships last year.

"They would be on their own," Burch said.

Mark Madison, director of career and technical education for the Edmonds School District, said Perkins money there is used for career counseling, Tech Prep support, student internships, regional competitions and integrating academic standards into technical education curriculum.

The pressure on vocational education has had an effect, Madison said.

"It has made us much more deliberate in terms of academic instruction, looking at how we support No Child Left Behind and preparing students for the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning exams)."


— Eric Stevick and Melissa Slage
the Daily Herald


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