Clinton team pushes jobs training for youths Riley and Reich at conference here

September 09, 1993|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Staff Writer

Many youths finish high school imbued with the "pep of a tired old dog on a hot summer afternoon," said U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley yesterday as he urged reform of high school vocational programs nationwide.

"Too many high school students take off their caps and gowns and realize they have no earthly idea how to get a job," he said.

"It's high time to give a jump start to their careers and their lives."

Mr. Riley and U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich came to Baltimore to push a Clinton administration initiative, the School-to-Work Opportunities Act, which calls for school systems and businesses to develop better vocational training and opportunities for high school students. The talks kicked off a three-day conference at the Omni Inner Harbor Hotel to acquaint hundreds of educators from across the nation with details of the proposal.

The legislation, introduced last month by Sen. Paul Simon, an Illinois Democrat, and Rep. William D. Ford, a Michigan Democrat, was developed jointly by the departments of Labor and Education. There are three main components:

* Students would participate in work-based learning, including paid work experience and mentoring.

* They would receive school-based learning, including vocational and academic classes, and career counseling.

* By the 11th grade, they would choose a career major so that classes would strengthen their job skills in that area. At graduation, students would receive both a high school diploma and a skills certificate that would be recognized nationwide -- and could be used to obtain a job.

The educational reform is needed because the current system fails too many youths, said Mr. Riley, a former governor of South Carolina. "We cannot use high school to sort out kids into a college track or a track that leads to nowhere."

Seventy-five percent of the nation's young people don't attend college, and they pay an economic penalty. Many cannot earn enough to support a family of four, said Mr. Reich, an economist. "We should not be organized on the idea that everyone in America is going to go to a four-year college," he said.

In Maryland, many high school students take such a general program that they are neither equipped for college nor trained for an occupation, said Assistant State Superintendent Kathy Oliver, who attended the conference. The state's educational goal is that 95 percent of all students will graduate equipped for either college or a job.

Ms. Oliver cited several Maryland programs that could be expanded, including one based at Catonsville Community College that prepares high school students for machine trades.

The proposed legislation calls for federal money to be parceled out this way: Beginning next year, about $68 million in "seed money" -- funding for states to assess their own needs -- would be available. Maryland could receive about $200,000 of this amount, said Ms. Oliver.

In the next phase, $300 million would be awarded on a competitive basis to launch programs in 25 states. In the third phase, the amount would double, to $600 million.

The School-to-Work act would allow each local system to develop its own programs, enhancing existing efforts and addressing local job needs.

"We want to build on your successes," Mr. Reich told the #F audience of about 350 state education officials and business representatives connected with job-training programs.

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