Perkins Bill Is Approved by Congress

By Sean Cavanagh — August 08, 2006 5 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Career and technical education programs will face new pressure to show that they are academically rigorous and guiding high school students through a lineup of courses that prepares them for college or the workplace, under a bill approved by Congress.

The reauthorization of the federal law known as the Perkins Act—dealing with what traditionally has been called vocational education—will not subject state and local programs to the stricter demands and penalties of the No Child Left Behind Act, however. Critics in some quarters, including the White House, have said that such programs should be held to much tougher standards than they currently face. Nevertheless, President Bush is expected to sign the legislation.

The measure requires that career-oriented programs receiving federal funds report test scores and graduation rates more consistently, under the rules of the 4½-year-old No Child Left Behind law. And it requires that states take a more active role in spelling out specific sequences of core academic and technical classes that students should follow from grade to grade.

From ‘Vocational’ to ‘Career and Technical’

The reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act, which awaits President Bush’s signature, includes several changes for states and school districts that administer the federal program:

References to “vocational” education— a term regarded as out of date by some educators—have been changed to “career and technical” education.

State and local career and technical programs will be required to report state test results and graduation rates for their students as defined by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Local programs will have to meet specific academic targets; those that fail to meet those goals will have to submit improvement plans, and eventually could have their funding cut by their states.

States and local programs together will have to establish “programs of study,” or plans for integrating academic- and career-oriented courses leading to a college degree or industry certification.

States will be able to use the same portion of their federal Perkins funding— 5 percent—for administrative costs as under the current law, despite calls by some in Congress to reduce that to 2 percent.

SOURCE: Education Week

“An awful lot of kids wander through high school without a plan,” said James R. Stone III, the director of the National Centers for Career and Technical Education, in Minneapolis. “If we want to help kids make it to postsecondary education and good-paying jobs, we need to lay out a road map for them.”

The legislation reauthorizes the federal vocational education law, now retitled the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education and Improvement Act of 2006, through 2012. At a time of especially fractious relations between congressional Republicans and Democrats, the measure won broad bipartisan support. The Senate approved it by unanimous consent on July 26, and the House passed it three days later by a vote of 399-1.

The Perkins Act, last reauthorized in 1998, governs the flow of about $1.3 billion annually in federal money to state and local work-related classes, programs, and training. Despite the Bush administration’s efforts to eliminate funding for the program, a White House spokeswoman told the Associated Press late last month that the president would sign the measure.

“Improving and strengthening the academic focus of the Perkins Act is part of a much larger effort to ensure that today’s students will be ready for tomorrow’s reality, whether it is in college or the workforce,” Sen. Michael B. Enzi, R-Wyo., the chief sponsor of the legislation, said on the floor of the Senate on July 26. Rep. Enzi is the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Scheduling Courses

Some of the legislation’s changes to the current law are semantic: The reauthorization replaces references to “vocational” education—a term some say is outdated and derogatory—to “career and technical” education.

Other revisions are more substantive. The measure, for example, requires states and districts to report career and technical students’ scores on state high school assessments, as well as their graduation rates, under state plans approved under the No Child Left Behind law. Right now, states accept a hodge-podge of measures of local programs’ academic merit—from students’ state test scores, to grade point averages, to data on students’ completion of career-oriented courses. That variety makes genuine evaluations of the programs difficult, some experts say.

“It will be more consistent across the board,” Katharine Oliver, the Maryland Department of Education’s assistant superintendent for career, technology, and adult learning, said of the new legislation.

But Ms. Oliver and others also noted that some statewide high school assessments are given in 10th grade or earlier; by contrast, students often do not decide to concentrate in career-oriented classes until 11th or 12th grade.

As a result, said Mr. Stone, states could be judging vocational programs’ academic strength “before [their students] have had the career and technical experience.” Mr. Stone’s career-and-technical research center receives federal funding.

Another core feature of the new Perkins legislation requires states to create “programs of study,” or sequences of high school and college courses, that students who take heavy concentrations of career-oriented courses should follow.

Some states already have such programs of study in place. Over the past few years, Nebraska has been moving toward having school districts require “personal learning plans” for students with large numbers of career-oriented electives, said Richard Katt, the state’s director of career and technical education.

The goal is to encourage students “not to focus on a job, but on … all the possible careers within an area”—and take the core academic classes in math and other subjects needed for that field, Mr. Katt said.

Federal Support

Mr. Stone suggested that programs of study could lead to effective student academic planning, an area in which an existing piece of the Perkins program, known as Tech Prep, has a mixed record at best.

Funded at $100 million a year, Tech Prep supports partnerships in workforce training between high schools and colleges. Critics, however, have questioned the program’s effectiveness. House lawmakers originally proposed that Tech Prep be folded within a larger Perkins program of general state grants. The new legislation retains Tech Prep, but sets new academic demands on it and gives states the freedom to combine its funding with money from the Perkins state grants.

The Bush administration has proposed zeroing out funding for the Perkins legislation in its two most recent budget proposals, arguing that federal vocational money would be better spent on the administration’s proposals to extend the No Child Left Behind law’s provisions to high schools.

In addition, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings last year sent letters to Senate and House lawmakers voicing her objections to earlier versions of the Perkins Act reauthorization bills, saying they were not academically demanding enough—only to see both chambers approve those measures by overwhelming margins.

Many federal lawmakers believe vocational programs in their home districts are successful, particularly in keeping students who are at risk of dropping out engaged in school.

In a statement issued after Congress’ final passage of the reauthorization, Secretary Spellings appeared to voice support for the law, saying Congress “deserves credit for making some needed reforms” to the existing Perkins Act.

“For the first time, career and technical education programs will be held accountable for continuous improvement in performance, measured by the academic proficiency of [vocational] students,” Ms. Spellings said. “These changes will help ensure that students graduate with the academic skills valued by employers and colleges alike.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 09, 2006 edition of Education Week as Perkins Bill Is Approved By Congress


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.
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls
Science K-12 Essentials Forum How To Teach STEM Problem Solving Skills to All K-12 Students
Join experts for a look at how experts are integrating the teaching of problem solving and entrepreneurial thinking into STEM instruction.
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.
School & District Management Webinar
Modernizing Principal Support: The Road to More Connected and Effective Leaders
When principals are better equipped to lead, support, and maintain high levels of teaching and learning, outcomes for students are improved.
Content provided by BetterLesson

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

Federal Lawmakers, Education Secretary Clash Over Charter School Rules
Miguel Cardona says the administration wants to ensure charters show wide community interest before securing federal funding.
5 min read
Education Secretary Miguel Cardona speaks during the 2022 National and State Teachers of the Year event in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, April 27, 2022.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, is seen during a White House event on April 27. The following day, he defended the Biden administration's budget proposal on Capitol Hill.
Susan Walsh/AP
Federal Opinion What If We Treated Public Education Like the Crisis It Is?
A former governor warns that without an overhaul, education's failures will cost the nation dearly.
Bev Perdue
5 min read
Conceptual Illustration of the sun rising behind a broken down school building
Federal What the Research Says Education Research Has Changed Under COVID. Here's How the Feds Can Catch Up
Adam Gamoran, chairman of a National Academies panel on the future of education research, talks about the shift that's needed.
5 min read
Graphic shows iconic data images all connected.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Federal 7 Takeaways for Educators From Biden's State of the Union
What did President Joe Biden say about education in his first State of the Union address to Congress? Here's a point-by-point summary.
3 min read
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress at the Capitol, Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Washington as Vice President Kamala Harris applauds and House speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., looks on.
President Joe Biden delivers his first State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress, with Vice President Kamala Harris and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in attendance.
Sarahbeth Maney/The New York Times via AP