House Approves Skills-Focused Workforce Readiness Bill

Legislation reauthorizes Perkins Act, strengthens career and technical education programs

By Roy Maurer Jun 22, 2017
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The U.S. House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve legislation reauthorizing federal funding for state and local career and technical education (CTE) programs through fiscal year 2023, while modifying how such funds are used to better target critical skills gaps.

Representatives Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., are the primary sponsors of the bill to reauthorize and overhaul the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which provides more than $1 billion a year in federal funds for job training programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

"Far too many Americans have difficulty accessing the education and skills needed to build a promising career and successful future," Thompson said. "Jobs are going unfilled as employers face a shortage of skilled workers. Stronger career and technical education programs are exactly what this country needs to prepare our workers for the demands of a 21st century economy and meet the needs of employers."

The Perkins Act was last revised and updated in 2006, and it no longer reflects "the realities and challenges facing students and workers," according to the bill's sponsors.

"Advances in technology and the growth of a global economy have dramatically changed the kinds of jobs that are available, making high-quality education and skills development vital to competing in today's workplaces," Thompson said. "Current policies restrict the ability of state leaders to invest federal resources in efforts that prioritize economic growth and local needs. … at a time when critical industries have vacant jobs but not enough qualified workers to fill them."

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: How do I partner with local colleges to develop workers?]

The bill:

  • Simplifies the requirements states must follow when applying for federal funds.
  • Streamlines the state application process and aligns it with the process for submitting the state workforce development plan under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
  • Simplifies the application process for local education providers.
  • Calls for education providers to partner with local stakeholders to perform biennial reviews to determine the needs of local communities.
  • 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.
  • Allows states more flexibility to use federal funds to support CTE programs "focused on unique and changing education and economic needs."
  • Promotes work-based learning opportunities and evaluates CTE providers on their ability to effectively prepare students for the workforce.
  • Encourages stronger engagement with local employers by including them in the development of training programs and performance goals.
  • Empowers states to direct federal resources to CTE programs that provide students with skills to fill available jobs in their states and communities and to support programs focused on in-demand industries or occupations.
  • Streamlines the number of performance measures at the postsecondary level and aligns these with the performance measures in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act.
  • Requires states to set performance goals through an open process that includes input from local education leaders, parents and students, workforce development boards, and community and business representatives, while diminishing input from the federal Department of Education.
  • Requires states to report on and annually publish CTE program performance results.

The legislation is similar to a bill that passed the House in 2016 but stalled in the Senate due to a disagreement over the extent of federal oversight.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that implementing the legislation would cost $4.4 billion from 2018-22, and about $4 billion after 2022, assuming appropriation of the authorized amounts.

National education and workforce development groups such as the Association for Career and Technical Education and Advance CTE have supported the bill as it made its way through Congress.

"This bill ensures that the good work already happening in states and local communities can continue, while also underscoring the important role CTE has in closing the skills gap," said LeAnn Wilson, executive director of the Association for Career and Technical Education. "The addition of the local needs assessment will expand the use of data in driving fiscal and policy decisions and [will] be a pivotal tool in ensuring equitable access for all students."

Kermit Kaleba, federal policy director for the National Skills Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based group advocating for investments in workforce development, noted that the bill's provisions would make it easier for states and CTE providers to coordinate with activities under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), including closer alignment of postsecondary performance indicators with the core performance indicators under WIOA.

The bill also has "requirements that state Perkins plans describe how CTE programs fit within the state's broader vision and strategy for preparing an educated and skilled workforce," and "would adopt several key WIOA definitions, including recognized postsecondary credentials, industry or sector partnerships, and career pathways," he said.

The National Association of Manufacturers pointed out that 80 percent of manufacturers are reporting a "moderate or serious shortage of qualified applicants for skilled and highly skilled positions," and that "legislation that funds many manufacturing education programs across the country is of critical importance for the future of manufacturing."

Making career and technical education programs more effective aligns well with the Trump administration's focus on upskilling the U.S. workforce to fill skills gaps, and the president recently devoted a week to touting the value of apprenticeship education. However, the proposed fiscal year 2018 budget for the Department of Education would cut Perkins Act grants to states by about 15 percent.

"While the Trump administration talks about supporting workforce and skills development, this dramatic cut is nothing short of an attack on CTE and the students and employers who benefit from it," said Wilson. "At a time when millions of job openings go unfilled every year due to shortages in the skilled, technical workforce, President [Donald] Trump should double down on an investment in CTE, not propose drastic cuts."

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