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Perkins Act Update Stalls in U.S. Senate

A major revamp of the federal regulations and funding rules related to career and technical education in this country is on hold after the United States Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions canceled a scheduled meeting. The Workforce Advance Act, reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, had been read twice in the Senate and sent back to the committee.

According to reporting by the Alliance for Excellent Education, there are major disagreements over bill language related to prohibitions on the U.S. Secretary of Education proposed by Senate Republicans. "At this point, the bill is not dead, but time is running out," the alliance noted.

That's a different outcome than what happened in the U.S. House of Representatives, which passed its version of the bill by a vote of 405 to five. The "Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act" would provide $1.1 billion in federal funds for middle schools, high schools and postsecondary education to deliver career and technical education (CTE). That version put the Perkins Act through the same kind of milling work given to the larger No Child Left Behind Act as it transformed into the Every Student Success Act (ESSA). For one, there's less emphasis on federal agency oversight; for another, states take over more control related to how funds are spent and how results are assessed.

A fact sheet from the Congressional Education and the Workforce Committee laid out four major areas of emphasis for the House version of the bill:

  • The new act simplifies the application process for receiving federal funds and provides more flexibility to use federal resources to respond to changing education and economic needs within a given state. The bill increases from 10 percent to 15 percent the amount of federal funds states can set aside to assist eligible students in rural areas or areas with a significant number of CTE students.
  • The bill is intended to improve alignment with in-demand jobs by supporting new and innovative learning opportunities (specifically, work-based learning), building better community partnerships and encouraging stronger engagement with employers, who are to be brought in to set performance goals at the state and local levels.
  • It is intended to increase transparency and accountability by streamlining performance measures. The goal: to ensure CTE programs deliver results and empower parents, students and other stakeholders with a voice in setting performance goals and evaluating the effectiveness of local programs. What it eliminates, according to the bill's summary, is a need for states to negotiate targeted levels of performance with the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Finally, the House version limits the authority of the Department of Education by "reining in the Secretary of Education’s authority, limiting federal intervention and preventing political favoritism."

"Career and technical education plays a powerful and positive role in helping individuals obtain the skills they need to be competitive in today's workforce," said U.S. Representative Glenn Thompson (R-PA), in a prepared statement. Thompson introduced the bill into the House. "With passage of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, the House has taken a significant step toward helping more Americans pursue fulfilling and successful futures. I am happy we were able to work in a bipartisan manner on this important issue and look forward to our continued efforts to ensure career and technical education provides many more students with a path to success."

"We need to make sure that we have greater accountability for program quality," noted U.S. Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA), in his statements during the debate, prior to the vote. "We want to ensure that we have more inclusive collaboration between educational institutions, industries, employers and community partners. And we need to make sure that those programs are aligned with our recent K through 12 education and workforce systems."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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