Law & Courts

Congress Getting Back to Work on Vocational Ed. Law

By Sean Cavanagh — July 11, 2006 4 min read

After more than a year of inactivity, Congress appears close to hammering out its revisions to the main federal vocational education law, which governs the flow of more than $1 billion a year to career-oriented programs in schools.

The House and the Senate are expected to appoint members to a conference committee soon in an attempt to resolve differences between the bills approved in the two chambers last year by overwhelming margins.

Those measures would reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998. Both bills would keep the core of the program intact, despite criticism by the White House and others who say it is not academically rigorous enough, and that federal money would be better spent elsewhere.

The lead sponsor of the House bill, Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Del., said lawmakers are satisfied with the overall thrust of the existing Perkins program and see it as an important option for helping struggling students.

“These bills sharpen up the educational expectations somewhat,” Rep. Castle said in a recent interview. Lawmakers “are genuinely impressed by what they see in the voc-ed program,” he said. “You see students who might otherwise drop out … take an interest in school.”

The federal government currently provides $1.3 billion to states and school districts under the Perkins program for the development of career-oriented courses and curricula, purchases of technology, and other purposes. The vast majority of that money goes for what is known as the basic-grant program, which supports a broad range of career-related functions.

The second piece of the program, called Tech Prep, provides about $100 million per year for state and local efforts to foster partnerships between high schools and postsecondary institutions, typically community colleges. An estimated 1,000 such partnerships exist nationwide.

Judging ‘Tech Prep’

The House bill, unlike the Senate version, would eliminate the separate funding stream for Tech Prep and merge it with the state-grant program. That change is opposed by some advocates for vocational education, who fear it would diminish Tech Prep’s funding and influence over time.

But critics say Tech Prep has done little to make high school vocational courses more academically challenging. The National Assessment of Vocational Education, or NAVE, an independent, congressionally chartered report released in 2004, said Tech Prep “has not lived up to its promise of creating rigorous programs of study.”

While some Tech Prep programs are strong, “a lot of them are not very good and ought to go away,” said Susan K. Sclafani, a former assistant secretary for vocational and adult education in the Department of Education in the current Bush administration.

The effectiveness of many school-to-college partnerships diminishes over time, added Ms. Sclafani, who is now the managing director of the Chartwell Education Group LLC, a consulting company with offices in Washington and New York City. States should be given the flexibility either to continue funding Tech Prep or use the federal money in other ways, she argued.

Kimberly A. Green, the executive director of a Washington-based association of state vocational education directors, agreed that some Tech Prep programs have struggled, but she also argued that the results were better than what showed up on the recent NAVE study.

“The numbers, on their face, don’t look very good,” said Ms. Green, of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium. “[But] the environment has changed pretty dramatically over the past five or six years.”

The Senate bill would also change the language throughout the Perkins Act from “vocational” education—a term some supporters of those programs say is outdated—to “career and technical” education, which they say suggests preparation for work in a broader range of fields.

Both chambers’ measures would add new provisions to the law aimed at increasing the oversight placed on money that flows from the federal government to states and then to school districts. Under current law, states must negotiate with the federal Education Department to develop measures of the performance of their vocational programs, in areas such as their success in helping students improve academically, achieve a college education, or find a job.

But the 2004 NAVE report found that state requirements for vocational programs were inconsistent and unreliable.

“Every state has picked benchmarks they can easily make,” Ms. Sclafani said. “It doesn’t lead to improvements in the program.”

Academic Demands

The House and Senate bills both would newly require local vocational education programs to meet state academic benchmarks, or risk losing federal funding. That change would have a positive impact, by giving states the right to demand more of local programs, Ms. Sclafani said. But for the Perkins law to work effectively, states have to set high academic benchmarks on their own—even if the federal government is limited in its ability to force them to do so, she said.

President Bush called for eliminating federal vocational funding in his proposed fiscal 2006 budget, an idea rejected by Congress. The administration has made the same proposal again for the fiscal 2007 budget, but a House appropriations subcommittee last month recommended funding the Perkins program at the full $1.3 billion.

The Senate passed its bill by 99-0 in March of last year, and the House adopted its proposal on a 416-9 vote two months later.

Rep. Castle said he expected congressional leaders to begin conference discussions sometime this month.

A version of this article appeared in the July 12, 2006 edition of Education Week as Congress Getting Back to Work on Vocational Ed. Law


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Court Restores Officers' Immunity Over Seizure of High School Athletes in Peeping Probe
A federal appeals court ruled in the case of two campus officers involved in detaining football camp participants for hours of questioning.
4 min read
Image of cellphones.
Law & Courts Appeals Court Weighs Idaho Law Barring Transgender Female Students From Girls' Sports
The three-judge federal court panel reviews a lower-court ruling that blocked the controversial statute and said it was likely unconstitutional.
4 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Law & Courts Federal Appeals Court Backs Socioeconomic-Based Admissions Plan for Boston 'Exam Schools'
The court denies an injunction to block the plan for next year and says considering family income in admissions is likely constitutional.
3 min read
Image shows lady justice standing before an open law book and gavel.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Law & Courts U.S. Supreme Court Wary About Extending School Authority Over Student Internet Speech
In arguments, the justices looked for a narrow way to decide a case about the discipline of a cheerleader over a profane Snapchat message.
7 min read
Members of the Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the Supreme Court in Washington on April 23, 2021.
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court pose for a group photo at the court on April 23. The justices heard arguments Wednesday in a major case on student speech.
Erin Schaff/The New York Times via AP