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In a rare display of bipartisanship, the Republican and Democratic members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee announced during a Nov. 19, 2013, hearing that they were prepared to work together to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.
“I find myself agreeing with everything Representative Miller just said, and that has me worried,” said Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., referring to comments made by the committee’s ranking minority member, Rep. George Miller, D-Calif. “But it also assures me that we have a lot of common ground here and that we can pass legislation which will have a lasting and positive impact.”
The Perkins Act regulates more than $1 billion in federal funds for career and technical education (CTE) programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. In 2006, Congress passed a reauthorization of the law that revised and updated the administration and funding for the training programs. The 2006 reauthorization extended the law through the end of 2012, after which it was temporarily extended through budget measures passed in January and October 2013.
Efforts to cut government spending and reduce the federal deficit, combined with an increase of students and workers applying for job-training programs, have intensified competition for the federal dollars available for CTE programs.
“The Perkins Act has supported the development of in-demand skills among secondary- and postsecondary-education students of all backgrounds for many years,” Miller said during his opening remarks. “Yet there is growing consensus that federal investment needs to focus on relevant, rigorous and high-quality CTE programs that both better fit with labor market needs and better prepare students to succeed in in-demand and high-paying jobs.”
A panel of four experts was assembled for the hearing, and all the witnesses stressed the need to reform the nation’s CTE programs and to create a system that promotes stronger ties and cooperation between the business community and the agencies that develop and run government-sponsored job-training programs.
“Business involvement, which is critical to connecting education and economic need, is spotty at best,” said Stanley S. Litow, president of the IBM International Foundation. “With very little business involvement, few CTE programs are aligned to real jobs and needed skills. Employers, educators, and government and community leaders must collaborate, with each contributing its specific expertise to solve complex employment needs and prepare the new generation of workers.”
Blake Flanders, Ph.D., vice president of workforce development for the Kansas Board of Regents, echoed Litow’s statement and emphasized[FK1] the importance of giving CTE students more opportunities to earn job credentials and certificates that can help accelerate their transition into the workforce.
“Strong connections to business and industry are the key to successful career technical education programs that produce positive outcomes for students and assist business in staying competitive,” he told the committee. “All career and technical education programs, where possible, must include industry credentials. Industry credentials provide a clear and direct connection between education and work and ensure graduates have the skills employers require in the new economy.”
Urgency Needed, but Stumbling Blocks Remain
The Democratic and Republican committee members agreed that they need to move quickly to revamp the Perkins Act. However, questions on funding levels and allocation of resources could pose some major political stumbling blocks as the reauthorization measure moves through Congress.
As the committee discussed the reauthorization effort, Kline expressed concern over a new CTE initiative that officials at the White House and Department of Labor (DOL) announced just a few hours before the hearing began.
“I am discouraged by this morning’s news that President Obama plans to announce a new national competitive grant program aimed at career education without any input from Congress,” Kline said. “Another program will only further muddle the system at a time when we need to make smart structural reforms to improve CTE programs under the Perkins Act.”
According to a White House statement, the DOL would collaborate with the Department of Education (DOE) “to make $100 million available for YouthCareerConnect grants to provide high school students with the industry-relevant education and skills they need for a successful future.”
Officials at the White House and the DOL explained that the YouthCareerConnect program is designed to encourage local school districts, institutions of higher education, the workforce investment system and their partners to boost and improve evidence-based high school models that will transform the learning experience for U.S. students.
After expressing his concerns about the administration’s announcement, Kline asked Brenda Dann-Messier, assistant secretary for the DOE’s office of vocational and adult education, to clarify the funding for the new grant program. The chairman told Dann-Messier that he feared the addition of a new $100 million grant program would create problems and reduce the resources available to other government-funded CTE programs.
Dann-Messier assured him that the White House had accounted for the new program expenditure and that she would supply the committee with final details of the plan when they became available.
Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.
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