Congress readies reauthorization of CTE bill

Congress readies reauthorization of CTE bill

(District of Columbia) As educators in much of the nation struggle with the fundamental objectives for serving the millions of students that will never attend college, Congressional leaders are close to a compromise for reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

A version of the bill passed out of the House of Representatives last week with bipartisan support. Senators appeared close to taking their counter proposal to the floor earlier this week but last minute disagreements over the bill’s restrictions on the U.S. Department of Education have delayed that vote.

Still, leaders in both houses have said they believe a final draft should be forthcoming and may be one of the final actions Congress takes during the lame duck session that will follow the November presidential election.

H.R. 5587, which was approved in the House by a vote of 405-5 last week, drew high marks from two of the nation’s largest career tech advocacy organizations – Advance CTE and the Association for Career and Technical Education.

“The bill would afford states and local secondary and postsecondary recipients the flexibility to build upon their existing efforts to deliver high-quality CTE programs while also promoting innovation and program alignment, all within a framework of streamlined administrative requirements and a more intentional focus on local needs,” leadership of Advance CTE and ACTE said in a joint statement.

“The legislation will ultimately help fuel the talent pipeline and prepare workers for the high-skill, high-wage, high-demand careers of the 21st century,” they said.

The 2006 Perkins Act, which was the last time the law was updated by Congress, revised the concept of “vocational education” and replaced it with the term, “career technical education.” The bill also sought to better link robust academic  expectations with the skill training found traditionally within the CTE arena.

The version approved in the House this month revises requirements for core indicators of performance, according to a staff analysis. As proposed, the new indicators would better differentiate those students identified as CTE concentrators who graduate from high school from those CTE concentrators that go on to college.

Also, the House bill would define CTE concentrators as secondary students who have “completed three or more career and technical education courses, or completed at least two courses in [a] single career and technical education program or program of study.”

The bill authorizes the U.S. Department of Education to award grants based on commitment by local educational agencies to:

  • create, develop, implement, or take to scale evidence-based, field initiated innovations, including through a pay for success initiative to improve CTE student outcomes; and
  • evaluate such innovations rigorously.

State plans shall be for four years instead of six years.

Because of the unified action in the House on the bill, there was much optimism within the Senate that they could produce a version of the reauthorization quickly – but since then, the outlook has dimmed.

At issue, according to a legislative advocate representing ACTE, are proposed prohibitions that would restrain the U.S. Secretary of Education role in overseeing the program. It is unclear what specific limits are in play but insiders suggest that Democrats have baulked at the degree of limitations on “secretarial authority.”

Although the bill does not specifically address the issue of how schools go about educating students that are unlikely to attend college – some of the new definitions could help support efforts to evaluate when a student is ready in enter the work force.

Education policy makers have struggled to establish non-academic performance indicators for career readiness. By clarifying a difference between CTE concentrators that go on to college with those that do not, Congress may help focus attention on those non-college bound students.