College & Workforce Readiness

Trump Budget Request Prioritizes STEM And Apprenticeships. But Is There a Catch?

By Stephen Sawchuk — February 12, 2018 4 min read
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The Trump Administration’s budget request for 2019 eyes a strong push for high school-based apprenticeships and career and technical education focused on the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

The proposals, however, would revamp the Carl T. Perkins Act, the federal law that governs how this federal funding flows. Among other things, the budget request says it would “promote strategies that allow students to work and learn at the same time,” and prioritize “offerings to STEM fields and other high-demand fields.”

Thus, while consistent with Trump’s push for apprenticeships and on-the-job learning, the budget hints at a program with far tighter goals, since schools currently use the funds to support CTE programs in, for example, the health and medical fields all the way down to agriculture.

The request is still a long, long way from being finalized. As our Politics K-12 reporters point out, Congress was not particularly receptive to Trump’s budget ideas last year. And what’s more, changes to the shape of the Perkins act would probably require legislation.

Apprenticeships, “High Demand” CTE

The budget would level-fund the $1.1 billion Perkins grants, which are given out to states to support career and technical education. That is, in and of itself, a win for advocates, since last year’s budget proposed cutting Perkins by about $168 million.

Meanwhile, the program is already overdue for an overhaul—the U.S. House of Representatives passed its version of a rewrite in the fall, but the Senate has not advanced its draft yet.

It’s very hard to know what exactly the budget proposal is supposed to mean, since it’s not detailed enough to be legislative language. But it reads as though the Trump administration wants to tighten up the program significantly.

Limiting Perkins funds to “high demand” fields, as the request proposes, echoes the movement in some CTE circles to not approve new programs unless there’s a workforce demand for them, as evidenced by labor market data. (See Catherine Gewertz’s great story looking at this new phenomenon.) On the other hand, any attempt from the feds to limit what states can do with their federal dollars is bound to receive some pushback.

The budget also says the administration would like to promote and expand apprenticeships, to bring Perkins in line with Trump’s executive order on this last summer. In fact, at the time he pitched using financial aid programs to fund apprenticeships.

And the budget runs with that idea. It would like to expand Pell Grant eligibility to include “high-quality, short-term programs” that lead to a credential in an in-demand field, “with sufficient guardrails in place to balance students’ needs with protecting taxpayers’ interests.” Right now Pell Grants are used to support student enrollment in two- and four-year programs. (Worth noting in this context: Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education, suspended Obama-era regulations that were meant to end financial aid to poor-quality, for-profit and certificate programs.)

Similarly, the budget envisions reworking the federal work-study program to focus on jobs that could lead to a career, rather than randomly assigned campus jobs like filing or working in the library.

“Schools could fund individual students through subsidized employment, paid internships, or other designs, so long as the placements were career or academically relevant. Schools could also fund broader programs that serve multiple students that expose students to or build their preparedness for careers,” the budget request states.

Congress would likely also need to approve changes to these financial aid programs.

A Focus on STEM

The budget request makes good on Trump’s call, last fall, for the U.S. Department of Education to focus its programs on increasing STEM education. It requests $200 million in STEM funding through a variety of existing channels.

Chief among them would be $180 million (an increase of about $80 million) for the Education Innovation and Research grant, which replaced the former Investing in Innovation or i3 research competition. This would support efforts to study and scale up “STEM education models that work.”

And the request would also reserve an additional $13 million (for a total of $20 million) for a national CTE competition focused on improving STEM-related career and technical education, which would be doled out to consortia of colleges and workforce agencies.

Other Curriculum Programs

There is some bad news for anyone in the English/language arts, literacy, or reading areas: Those programs, most notably the $190 million Comprehensive Literacy Development grants, are among the dozens of programs slated for elimination.

There has not been a major reading program providing funds to every state since Congress defunded Reading First in 2009, following a series of complaints about the department’s administration of the program.

Photo: Junior Keaton Turner, a junior at Warren County High School in McMinnville, Tenn., welds a during an Advanced Manufacturing class in April, 2017.--Joe Buglewicz for Education Week-File

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.