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CTE ON THE FOREFRONT: Obama Administration and Congress Push for Career and Technical Education Act Rewrite

Career and technical education (CTE) is enjoying time in the spotlight, with newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of Education John King, the White House, and members of the U.S. Congress pushing it to the forefront.

On March 9, King called on Congress to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which provides more than $1.1 billion in funding for CTE programs in middle school, high school, and postsecondary education institutions. “It’s time for Congress to reauthorize the Perkins Act so that every student in every community has access to rigorous, relevant, and results-driven CTE programs,” said King during an appearance in Baltimore at the Digital Harbor Foundation Tech Center.

“We’ve come a long way from what we used to refer to as vocational education,” King said. “Today, every job that leads to a secure future requires critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity, as well as some postsecondary education or training. The best career and technical education programs help students prepare for this future once they graduate from high school. Career and technical education is not just about preparing some students for successful lives and careers, it’s about giving all students the tools to shape our future.”

A U.S. Department of Education (ED) press release on King’s appearance outlines several of the Obama administration’s priorities for Perkins reauthorization, including effective alignment with today’s job market, stronger collaboration between education institutions and industry partners, meaningful accountability for better student academic and employment outcomes, and innovation in CTE models on both the state and local levels.

Perkins was last reauthorized in 2006, and lawmakers began the process of renewing and reworking the law several years ago to no avail, notes Education Week. Currently, in the Senate, there is a strong bipartisan effort to reauthorize Perkins, led by Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA), as well as Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Bob Casey (D-PA). Now that reauthorization is on the table, legislators are beginning to bring forward bills that may eventually be wrapped into a Perkins rewrite.

Just last week, Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), Rob Portman (R-OH), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) introduced the Career and Technical Education Excellence and Equity Act. The bill would support innovation in CTE and redesign the high school experience for historically underserved students by creating a grant program to fund partnerships between school districts, employers, and institutions of higher education, with the goal of preparing more students for postsecondary education and the workforce.

“To grow the most talented workforce in the world, we need to equip students with the skills to succeed in the twenty-first-century economy,” said Kaine. “A high school education should prepare students for any pathway they choose, whether that’s attending a four-year university, earning credentials from a community college program or getting a high-skilled job after graduation. Our bill would provide federal funding to support schools as they redesign curriculum to incorporate impressive CTE programs like the ones I’ve visited at schools across Virginia.”

Participating students would graduate from high school with an industry recognized credential or credit toward a postsecondary education degree or certificate, as well as be better prepared to enroll in a postsecondary education program aligned with their career path without the need for remediation.

Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise offered his support for the legislation, saying in a press release, “There is a mismatch between the traditional high school experience and the expectations of higher education and employers. This bipartisan legislation casts a wide net, bringing in employers, school districts, colleges, and others with a stake in the quality of the nation’s high school graduates to make the high school experience more engaging for students and more relevant to today’s job market.”

ED emphasized the importance of high-quality CTE programs that are academically rigorous and aligned with workforce demands in a recent blog post, noting, “Most professions and careers in the 2016 and future economies require strong academic foundation skills, considerable technical knowledge and skills, and well-developed employability skills and attributes.” CTE programs can deliver these skills, with research showing that secondary CTE students are more likely to graduate from high school than non-CTE students, the post says.

The demand for high-quality CTE opportunities is evident in the large numbers of applicants for very few spots at CTE programs, and waiting lists at schools that serve communities with large populations of traditionally underserved students, the blog post notes. “The take away is that in communities where the need is greatest, access to good programs is a real problem. No access, no skills, no good jobs.” While the demand is growing, there is not a comparable supply, creating many missed opportunities to put students on paths toward college and a career, the post says.

ED also announced a Career and Technical Education Makeover Challenge, offering $200,000 to be divided among schools that submit designs for an innovative CTE makerspace. “Makerspaces provide students the materials and environment they need to create, invent, tinker, and explore,” explains the challenge website, “helping them build vital career skills, including critical thinking, planning, communication, and problem solving.” Eligible schools will have the opportunity to participate in a six-week CTE Makeover Bootcamp and selected honorees will receive $20,000 to build their makerspace.

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