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Bipartisan Career and Technical Education Bill Approved by Key Senate Committee

By Andrew Ujifusa — June 26, 2018 3 min read
High school seniors Alex Yates, left, and David Romero work on an assembly line machine in a mechatronics class in the career and technical education program at Warren County High School in McMinnville, Tenn., in 2017. The technology skills they learn in the class help prepare them for jobs in the area’s booming automotive industry.
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The Senate education committee agreed unanimously via voice vote Tuesday to favorably report a bill reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act to the full Senate.

The Senate version, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, would revamp the Perkins law, which Congress last reauthorized in 2006, by allowing states to establish certain goals for CTE programs without getting them cleared by the secretary of education first. However, it requires “meaningful progress” to be made towards meeting goals on key indicators.

If Congress ends up sending a Perkins bill to the White House, it would represent a notable education policy win for the Trump administration, as well as for business groups. The Trump administration recently dispatched senior adviser Ivanka Trump to Capitol Hill to push for senators to pass a CTE bill.

The administration has put its stamp of approval on the Senate CTE bill. A White House official said Tuesday the legislation “better aligns career and technical education programs with the needs of the business community and careers of today and tomorrow.”

The House passed Perkins reauthorization last summer, also with broad bipartisan support.

Sens. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., co-authored the legislation. Noting that one-sixth of Wyoming districts don’t get Perkins funding due to burdensome federal requirements attached to the money, Enzi said the bill is a piece of a puzzle that includes the Every Student Succeeds Act and other programs that contribute to the labor market and workforce development.

“It’s one that really has a lot of potential to really solve a lot of problems for this country,” Enzi told lawmakers Tuesday before the vote.

And Casey said the bill promotes equity by requiring data on student subgroups to be disaggregated, among other requirements. “I hope that the authorization will be followed by robust appropriations,” Casey said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the committee chairman, said the bill would give the federal government less of a role in state and local CTE decisions. And he noted that Tennessee spent about 10 times as much on CTE as it gets from the Perkins law.

“This is a partnership with states, and states are really the senior partner,” Alexander said, adding that he was pleased to be on the same page as the Trump team with respect to CTE.

And Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the committee’s top Democrat, also praised the bipartisanship behind the bill and stressed how crucial it was for students, businesses, and educators. “We couldn’t just pass the bill for the sake of passing a bill. We needed to get this right,” Murray said.

Other groups threw their support behind the bill.

The National Governors Association, for example, praised the bill’s increased flexibility for state leaders by allowing them to set aside a larger share of federal funds for CTE priorities. And Neil Bradley, the chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that the legislation from Casey and Enzi would “improve accountability and data transparency to ensure that CTE programs are adequately preparing students for the jobs of today and tomorrow.”

Two organizations focused on career and technical education, the Association for Career and Technical Education and Advance CTE, shared several concerns on the Senate CTE legislation in a Monday letter to the committee.

The two organizations expressed concern about the bill’s requirements for how performance targets for students concentrating in CTE are set. They also said they worried about the bill’s directives governing the use of state and local CTE money, and that the federal funding level authorized by the bill isn’t sufficient.

“Many new state plan requirements were added both in the House and Senate bills,” Advance CTE and the Association for Career and Technical Education Act wrote to Alexander and Murray. “Given how central the state plan is to the Senate bill’s accountability provisions, it is important that the state plan be as focused and streamlined as possible.”

But they also praised the bill for clarifying that federal CTE money can be used in middle schools, and for highlighting achievement gaps between student subgroups as an important issues.

Read the Senate Perkins bill.