Career Tech-Ed. Bill Models ESSA's Flexibility

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A new bill in Congress to overhaul the nation's law governing career-and-technical-education programs follows in the footsteps of the Every Student Succeeds Act by seeking to give states more discretion over decisions about spending, which programs to prioritize, and other issues.

The bipartisan Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act was introduced this month by Reps. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., in order to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

It would redefine which students are considered "concentrators" in CTE programs, allow states more flexibility in setting performance targets on core indicators of programs' success, and let state CTE leaders set aside more federal money than under current law for competitive grants or their own formula-funded programs.

CTE Bill at a Glance

The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act was introduced earlier this month in the House of Representatives. The bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act would:

• Increase state control over federal funding for career-and-technical education programs.

• Allow states to set aside money for competitive or formula-funded grant CTE programs.

• Change the definition of which students can be classified as CTE “concentrators.”

• Increase the allowable state set-aside of federal CTE funding from 10 percent under current law to 15 percent.

• Allow the U.S. secretary of education 120 days to approve or reject state CTE plans.

• Measure new subgroups of students when assessing federally funded CTE programs.

• Attempt to better align CTE programs with local workforce and economic needs.

"It reflects sort of the hallmarks of ESSA, which is an increased emphasis on flexibility as well as stakeholder engagement," said Sasha Pudelski, an assistant director at AASA, the School Superintendents Association.

The Perkins Act hasn't been reauthorized since 2006. Similar legislation was introduced last year and passed easily by the House of Representatives. Last year's reauthorization, however, bogged down in the Senate, where a squabble broke out between Democrats and Republicans over the extent to which the upper chamber's companion reauthorization bill should impose restrictions on the U.S. education secretary's authority.

It's unclear whether the new bill will have enough momentum to win passage through a highly polarized Congress already occupied with health care and other big-ticket issues.

That 2016 legislation also had Thompson as a lead author. Other authors of the new CTE bill include Reps. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala.; Katherine Clark, D-Mass. (who was also the lead co-author of the 2016 bill with Thompson); Drew Ferguson, R-Ga.; Jim Langevin, D-R.I.; Rick Nolan, D-Minn.; and Lloyd Smucker, R-Pa.

A High Priority?

A House GOP aide earlier this month said the expectation is that action would be taken on the bill in the coming weeks.

"We want to make sure that if a student is going through a CTE program, that they come out of that program with the skills and education they need to be successful in the workforce," the aide said. "The critical way to do that is to empower state and local leaders."

Career-and-technical-education advocates praised the new bill. For example, the Association for Career and Technical Education said in a statement that the Thompson-Krishnamoorthi legislation "builds on last year's effort" and that previous attempts to reauthorize the law also tried to better match programs with local employers' needs and cut down on red tape.

Some notable differences exist between the 2016 bill and this year's version.

For example, two accountability indicators in this year's bill—those for "nontraditional" students and for program quality—would apply only to CTE concentrators who have taken at least two sequential courses of study. Those indicators would have applied to such concentrators in the 2016 bill. The amount that a state could reduce its CTE funding following the bill becoming law would be capped at 10 percent, whereas the 2016 bill in theory had no limit on such spending cuts.

Also, state CTE performance targets would have to be based on the process laid out in states' Perkins plans. And the U.S. education secretary would have 120 days to approve or reject states' plans; the 2016 bill would have allowed state plans to become official after 90 days if the secretary had not responded to their submission within that time.

Even though the 2016 bill that served as a model for the new legislation sailed through the House, Pudelski said she's actually less optimistic about the new reauthorization push.

She cited the current "hyperpartisanship" in Congress that could kill off many legislative efforts. Pudelski also worried that there could be a leadership deficit on CTE.

"The Trump administration would need to take the lead to encourage the Congress, and particularly the Senate, to move forward," she said. "So far, they haven't done too much to indicate that CTE is a high priority for them. That can always change. There would have to be a big push on the Senate side to prioritize this."

In a speech last month at a Wisconsin factory, President Donald Trump said "vocational education" is "the way of the future."

With Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the Senate education committee, occupied with a new health-care bill and possibly reauthorizing the Higher Education Act during this Congress, other senators on the committee who've highlighted CTE recently, including Sens. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Tim Scott, R-S.C., could be called on by the leadership to push through a Senate Perkins reauthorization. (Enzi was in charge of the Senate education committee when Perkins was last reauthorized 11 years ago and helped push the bill through Congress.)

A spokesman for Enzi said the senator was "optimistic" about Perkins reauthorization but pointed out there's no timeline right now in the Senate. "Senator Enzi is working to reduce that administrative burden that the federal government places on states and local communities that accept Perkins CTE funds," he said.

Unanswered Spending Questions

In addition, the new Perkins bill doesn't address the issue of CTE funding, which has long been the single-biggest source of federal money for high schools.

In February, a coalition of advocates, business groups, and others wrote to members of the House and Senate CTE Caucus urging them to increase funding for Perkins grants. Among other things, they argued that better-funded career and technical education programs could help any long-term infrastructure plan, and the associated jobs, that's backed by Trump and federal lawmakers.

Related Blog

The letter noted that from fiscal 2007 to fiscal 2016, Perkins funding declined by $170 million. Perkins funding for fiscal 2017 is about $1.1 billion, the same as fiscal 2016, after a budget deal Congress approved this month.

The Trump administration did not address Perkins funding in the preliminary spending proposal released in March for fiscal 2018, which will start Oct. 1. Overall, the president's preliminary spending plan would cut U.S. Department of Education funding by $9 billion, or about 13 percent of its current total. Trump is expected to release a full budget later this month.

"His budget is unpredictable," Pudelski said of Trump.

Vol. 36, Issue 31, Pages 18-19

Published in Print: May 17, 2017, as Career Tech-Ed. Proposal Models ESSA Flexibility
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