Responding to calls for a better-educated work force to cope with new technologies, Congress worked on several education-related bills during the session that just ended. These three were considered to be the most significant:
Vocational Education Bill: By 2000, nearly 70 percent of the nation's jobs will require a college education, according to a report by the William T. Grant Foundation's Commission on Work, Family and Citizenship. This bill, sponsored by Representative Augustus F. Hawkins, D-Calif., and signed by President Bush in September, revamps vocational programs to serve students unlikely to pursue a traditional college education.
The legislation will provide funding to state and local governments so that schools can set up vocational programs that would start the last two years of high school and finish during two years at a community college or a postsecondary technical school. The bill, which authorizes $1.6 billion in fiscal 1991, will distribute 75 percent of the funds to improve vocational education and 25 percent to programs for the disabled and for displaced homemakers.
Math and Science Bill: Acting on Mr. Bush's goal to make U.S. students first in the world in math and science by 2000, Congress passed a bill to improve elementary students' abilities in those areas and to increase the number of people obtaining advanced degrees in math, particularly women and minorities.
One of the major objectives of the bill, which has been sent to the president for signature, is to establish a national network of regional centers to bring state-of-the-art science and math curricula to the nation's elementary and secondary schools.
The legislation establishes fellowships and traineeships; a national clearinghouse for science, mathematics and technology education materials; a program to give under-served urban and rural areas more access to math and science materials; and scholarship programs for students who show promise in these areas.
To increase the number of people studying for advanced degrees, the money available for the National Science Foundation graduate fellowship program will be doubled.
Omnibus Education Bill: The third piece of major legislation was a combination of several bills, including literacy bills offered by Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., and Representative Thomas C. Sawyer, D-Ohio, and a teachers training act offered by the Bush administration.
The Omnibus Education Bill died at the end of Congress because there was not enough time to resolve funding disputes.
But David W. Carle, Mr. Simon's press secretary, and John Gadd, a Sawyer aide, said similar legislation will be reintroduced when Congress returns next year.
The Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee has reported that 23 million Americans are illiterate and that an additional 45 million adults read with only minimal comprehension. Jonathan Kozol, author of "Illiterate America," estimates that the United States ranks only 49th among 158 nations in its literacy rate.