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House Passes Bill to Overhaul Career-Tech Education by Giving More Power to States

By Andrew Ujifusa — June 22, 2017 3 min read
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The House passed a reauthorization of the federal law governing career and technical education programs on Wednesday, but how exactly it will mesh with other workforce development efforts afoot in Washington remains to be seen.

Lawmakers backed H.R. 2353, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, which would overhaul the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. Like the Every Student Succeeds Act, it gives more decision-making and funding authority to states. The bill’s lead co-authors are Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill.

Among other things, the bill would allow states to set aside money for their own competitive-grant or other funding streams for CTE, and increase the permitted share of federal aid states could set aside for their own use from 10 percent under current law to 15 percent. It also is designed to better connect education in local communities to their respective local labor market, and changes the definition of which students are counted as “concentrators” in career and technical education programs. (That last provision has caused some heartburn among CTE advocates who think it’s overly broad, although it hasn’t significantly hampered the legislation.)

The Perkins Act hasn’t been reauthorized since 2006. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan praised the bill Thursday before the vote:

Thompson said at a press conference Thursday highlighted those struggling with unemployment and poverty that stretched back generations: “Today we’re here to celebrate a piece of legislation that can fix all that by restoring rungs on the ladder of opportunity.” And Krishnamoorthi highlighted an “acute skills shortage” now plaguing the labor market. “This particular bill addresses that squarely, and it does it with high schools and community colleges.”

Last September, the House passed a very similar bill to the one lawmakers approved on Thursday. Among the changes from that bill to this one is that in the current bill, the education secretary must definitively approve or reject state Perkins plans—in the 2016 bill, those plans would have been considered approved if there was no definitive rejection by the secretary. The new bill also puts additional requirements on states for maintaining a certain level of their own CTE funding. Civil rights groups, however, are worried that the bill would reduce federal oversight too much.

Advocates are hoping that President Donald Trump will help career and technical education through his focus on issues like infrastructure. And our colleague Catherine Gewertz covered the Trump administration’s recent moves to back apprenticeship programs. When asked how the bill would work with those efforts, Thompson responded it would fit “like a hand in a glove,” and noted that expanded apprenticeships was a part of the bill. However, Trump’s proposed education budget for fiscal 2018 would cut Perkins grants to states by about 15 percent.

Stan Litow, the leader of the IBM Foundation who helped start P-TECH high schools, said it makes “all the sense in the world” to get local communities more involved, as long as there’s a strong framework for communities and schools to work with businesses in the area.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect piece of legislation,” said Litow. But he added that there’s a sense of urgency in the CTE community to move it along: “It has the broad support of leaders across business, student organizations, not-for-profit groups, educators.”

Last year, Senate negotiations to pass its own Perkins bill broke down over a partisan dispute over the power of the education secretary. It’s unclear whether the change in administration will remove roadblocks to getting a Senate CTE bill over the finish line.