By Elizabeth Evans
On July 31st President Trump signed into law the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 2353: https://www.congress.gov/115/bills/hr2353/BILLS-115hr2353enr.pdf). This bill effectively reauthorizes the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006. Perkins funds are commonly known for being the federal government’s primary vehicle for supporting Career and Technical Education (CTE) at high schools and community/technical colleges across the country. This is a win for career education advocates who have spent the last 6 years arguing for updates to Perkins law in effort to make it more consistent with previous changes to the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (made in 2013).
What took so long?
When Perkins was initially renewed in 2006, the regulations and funding amounts established were only supposed to be followed for five years. Meaning, Perkins funding has been up for renewal since 2012. While members of both the Democratic and Republican parties had expressed support for a reauthorization, action often proved more difficult than words. Political grandstanding, unwillingness to compromise, and other general deadlock tactics hindered any progress towards an updated bill. Despite Perkins funding popularity, Congress seemed content to maintain the status quo through continued, year-after-year funding resolutions for Perkins.
In the Last Year
In 2017, the House of Representatives approved a preliminary version of the bill before sending it to the Senate. Negotiations within the Senate took almost a year, due in large part, to two areas of contention.
· Provisions restricting the Secretary of Education’s authority for administration of the program.
As with years previous, both of the hotly debated aspects of the bill pertained to fundamental tenets of each party’s approach the role of the federal government. Republican legislators supported the idea of vouchers which would allow states to award Perkins dollars through competitive grants or by following individual CTE students wherever they may go. This would have shifted more decision-making power to individual states with the stipulation that states also be required to include local employers at the table when deciding how funds should be spent. Republicans also wanted to curb the Secretary’s power to disseminate rules or define terms within the law. Democratic legislators, meanwhile, advocated for Perkins funding to remain formula based and tied to the number of students participating in CTE programs within a district (and by extension, the state). They also felt it prudent to allow the Secretary to maintain his or her current level of authority to administer the program as normal.
The End Result
The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act that was signed into law reauthorizes Perkins funding through 2024 and provides approximately $1.2 billion annually for CTE programs. In order to get bipartisanship support a few compromises were made between various versions of the bill proposed by Democrats and Republicans, as well as the House and Senate alike.
One compromise pertains to the Secretary’s ability to assign meaning to Perkins funding relevant terminology. The approved legislation features several definitions which have been clarified in lieu of the Secretary doing so. For instance, work-based learning opportunities (e.g. internships) are now included under the definition for what constitutes “career and technical education”. Also defined are CTE concentrators and CTE participant. Many of the definitions align with other federal education or workforce development legislation (e.g. Every Student Succeeds Act, and Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act). It is the hope of legislators, as well as CTE educators and advocates, that these shared cross-agency definitions will make coordination and communication much easier so as to facilitate alignment across education and training investments.
Another key feature of the bill pertains to changes in the accountability system for State Education Agencies and Local Education Agencies. For example, SEAs and LEAs will only be held accountable for CTE concentrator student success (i.e. reporting on only those students who enroll in CTE courses at a higher occurrence verses every student who enrolls in a CTE course regardless of intention to persist in a CTE pathway). Secondly, several new requirements are in place pertaining to how performance targets are set or revised. Moreover, states will now include their proposed performance targets within their state plans rather than through brokering with the Department of Education directly. This means that the Secretary is no longer able to negotiate directly with SEAs, but does have the ability to disapprove of a state plan if he or she believes it fails to meet Perkins requirements. With these changes, state plans are now to be submitted to the Secretary for approval every four years rather than six. The Secretary also maintains the ability to revoke funding from an SEA for failure to meet achievement standards, and can apply sanctions after as little as two years for poor performance. Fortunately, Education Secretaries have never shown an interest in doing more than threatening to revoke a state’s Perkins funding no matter how poor their results are, so it's unlikely that the impact of those latter changes will be felt.
It stands to note that the reauthorization doesn’t actually increase funding authorization. The approximately $1.2 billion noted in the legislation is simply a minimum amount that Congress must include for Perkins related activities when it comes time to pass the next federal budget. The final year-to-year funding amounts have yet to be seen and may be higher than this amount.
Nevertheless, the provisions set forth in the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act will be effective starting next school fiscal year (July 1, 2019). During this year, states will be in a “transition phase” wherein they start to implement certain key aspects under the new requirements but can still utilize previous Perkins standards and policies as well. States will be expected to submit new state plans to the Secretary by the Spring of 2020, which will outline how they intend to make use of funds from July 1, 2020 until June 30, 2024. It is expected that the Secretary will publish additional guidance for states beyond what has been outlined in H.R. 2353 in the next few months. Once the Department of Education has provided this information to states, State Education Agencies will – in turn – be able to establish and provide additional guidance to their Local Education Agencies and public 2-year colleges.