School-to-Work Sunsets, State Programs Rise

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Although October will bring an end to the seed money provided by the federal School-to-Work (S-t-W) Opportunities Act of 1994, as of now 16 states will continue to support S-t-W activities solely with state funds.

"This was our original intent," says Stephanie Powers, director of the National School-to-Work Office in the U.S. departments of Education and Labor. "Providing venture capital that could be passed on to local partnerships that could build and maintain school-to-work systems after the act expired was our goal. And it wasn't an easy thing to do, because new government programs always meet resistance."

The program was designed to raise students' career awareness by melding academic and workplace experience. Begun five years ago with a budget of $110 million and eight participating states (among them New York, Michigan, Oregon and Maine), S-t-W was funded on a curve over the ensuing years as more states began to participate. Clumps of states signed on as the S-t-W budget was upped to $250 million, then to $400 million in 1998 and 1999 before falling back to $100 million in 2000.

Because the states have five years to spend the money on local S-t-W efforts, the last batch of 15 states to sign on in 1997 (including Illinois, Georgia, Alabama, and South Carolina) will have federal money to spend beyond the sunset date. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands have been, or are, S-t-W participants.

While some participants at a recent Philadelphia conference on S-t-W research and practices praised the program for raising students' awareness, others faulted it for failing to connect students with meaningful post-school careers.

Steve Trippe, national director of the San Francisco-based New Ways Workers, sees things differently: "We were [focusing on] building effective systems to connect schools and the workplace before S-t-W came on the scene. Their work-based components are well-aligned with what we do."

Trippe's home base, California, has made sure school-to-work activities will continue to function as a state-funded endeavor, as have Delaware, Kentucky, New Mexico, Wisconsin and others.