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NAIL IN THE COFFIN?: Prospects for President’s High School Proposal Grow Dim as Perkins Reauthorization Moves to Conference

"Vocational and technical education is a vital component of our nation's educational system. States and local communities use Perkins funding to help prepare youth and adults for a successful future."

In February, congressional leaders were loud in their protest of President Bush’s decision to fund a proposed high school initiative with money from vocational education. Earlier this month, Congress moved closer to putting the final nail in the president’s proposal when the House of Representatives passed a reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act on May 4, by a vote of 416 to 9. In March, the Senate approved a similar bill, 99 to 0. House and Senate lawmakers now must reconcile differences in their bills in conference.

“In this bill we’re protecting the role of states and local communities, and we’re asking for results in exchange for the money we’re already spending at the federal level,” said Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman John Boehner (R-OH). “Vocational and technical education is a vital component of our nation’s educational system. States and local communities use Perkins funding to help prepare youth and adults for a successful future.”

In his fiscal 2006 budget request, President Bush proposed paying for his $1.5 billion high school initiative by eliminating or cutting funding from a number of existing programs that support high school activities. The lion’s share was to have come from the $1.3 billion Perkins program, the federal government’s largest contribution to secondary education.

“I am hopeful that [this action] will forever put an end to this idea of the administration that it is somehow going to zero out this legislation, or that it is going to take this money for some other initiative,” said Representative George Miller (D-CA), the top Democrat on the committee.

Throughout the reauthorization process, the Bush administration has continued to voice its displeasure with Congress’s decision to reauthorize the Perkins program. In a March 9 letter to Chairman Boehner and Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY), U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said that the House and Senate bills would “continue to reauthorize, with little change, the very programs that have been ineffective in improving the quality of education of our nation’s career and technical education students. It would be irresponsible to continue an investment in a program that does not improve the education of students at the high school level.”

And, while it shied away from any veto threat, the White House Office of Management and Budget reiterated its concerns with the House bill in a May 4 Statement of Administration Policy. “The Administration did not propose reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act because, despite decades of significant Federal spending, the current program is not adequately preparing our students to participate in today’s competitive workforce,” it read. The statement also urged Congress to make changes in conference that would “ensure accountability for Federal funds” and require that funds go to improve student achievement, graduation rates, job prospects, and earnings for postsecondary students.

Republicans said the House bill would provide increased accountability, a greater focus on student academic achievement, and streamlined federal funding to help states and local communities make the most of federal resources. “The bill . . . enhances Perkins by ensuring both secondary and postsecondary students participating in the program are acquiring rigorous academic and technical skills and will have the opportunity to transition into further education and/or successful employment,” said Representative Mike Castle (R-DE), the bill’s author.

Hope for High Schools?

Even with Congress adamantly resistant to diverting Perkins money for other high school reform activities, there might still be a glimmer of hope for some of President Bush’s high school agenda, particularly given the attitude of a key lawmaker who holds the purse strings for the education budget.

Last month, Representative Ralph Regula, chairman of the House Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, hinted that appropriators might find money for high school reform elsewhere in the budget. “I think that may get taken care of,” he told Education Daily.

Regula’s comments, combined with the tight budget environment, have led some Democrats to question whether the Perkins program would receive adequate funding. Perhaps in an attempt to allay their fears, Boehner addressed the issue on the House floor. “I have no doubts that the funding . . . that is authorized in this bill will, in fact, happen, just to set the record straight,” he said. For fiscal 2006, the House-passed bill authorizes $1.3 billion in spending.


Remaking Career and Technical Education for the Twenty-First Century


There is no way to significantly improve high school outcomes without tackling the quality of secondary career and technical education, says a new report from Jobs for the Future and the Aspen Institute Education and Society ProgramRemaking Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century: What Role for High School Programs? contains essays that summarize what is known about the value of career-focused high school education and offers a reform agenda for the future of high school career and technical education.

“The consensus among the contributors is that high school career and technical education has reached a critical juncture,” the report reads. “[It] has reached a ‘change or die’ moment when it must confront its capability and commitment to upgrade both academic rigor and technical relevance . . . It is clear, though, that staying the course is not acceptable. Major changes are needed in learning expectations, curriculum and instruction, and external partnerships.”

The report notes that while the role of career and technical education has shrunk, it remains a significant component of American high schools-especially for “non-college-bound” students, who traditionally need the most support to achieve at high levels. Among these students, career and technical education seems to help them stay in high school and graduate, but often does not academically prepare them for college-level work or for today’s workplace. According to the report, high school graduates who do not continue to college-particularly low-income students and those who are the most at risk-have enjoyed a significant short- to mid-run labor market payoff in jobs that were found with the help of career-focused programs in high school.

Among the contributors to the report, there is both optimism about the possibility of significant upgrading and concern that needed changes simply won’t come fast enough. The authors, who include Gene Bottoms, director of the Southern Regional Education Board’s High Schools That Work, and Virginia Governor Mark Warner, highlight examples of ways states and schools can change for the better and how states and the federal government can drive improvement in career and technical education programming. They outline a reform agenda for career and technical education consistent with that of high school reform nationally that focuses on rigor, relevance, and relationships. In the end, the authors believe that career and technical education will either take its place as a high-quality high school pathway or cede its role in the American high school experience.

The complete report is available at


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