On Monday, August 14, President Bush signed S. 250, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006 (Perkins), which reauthorized the U.S. Department of Education’s vocational and technical education programs. Perkins represents the largest single source of federal funding for middle and high schools.
This is a tremendously popular program among Congressional legislators, as demonstrated by the near unanimous support for it in both chambers of Congress (it passed by a 399–1 margin in the House and a 99–1 margin in the Senate). President Bush, however, proposed to eliminate the program in his last two budget requests. Instead, he would have used Perkins money to pay for a new high school reform initiative. However, because Perkins enjoys such broad bipartisan support in Congress, it received $1.3 billion in FY 2006 and is expected to receive a similar amount during this year’s appropriations process.
Perkins provides funding to states to improve career and technical education through subgrants to local educational agencies or postsecondary institutions. It also supports consortia of secondary and postsecondary institutions to implement Tech Prep programs,—a planned sequence of study in a technical field that includes at least 2 years of secondary school, 2 years of postsecondary occupational education or an apprenticeship program of at least 2 years following secondary instruction, and culminates in an associate’s degree or certificate.
“Improving and strengthening the academic focus of the Perkins Act is part of a much larger effort to ensure that today’s students will be ready for tomorrow’s reality, whether it is in college or the workforce,” said Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY), chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
An important part of ensuring that students are prepared for college and the workforce is making sure that students take the proper courses in high school. One change of particular importance to this goal is that, for the first time, both basic grantees and Tech Prep grantees can use Perkins funds to develop personal graduation and career plans for students participating in career and technical education programs. Personal graduation plans are designed to improve high school graduation rates and to provide information on postsecondary and career options for high school students. They are being used to tie together key elements of high school reform (such as personalization, rigorous curriculum, and academic interventions) in many states.
Additionally, Tech Prep grantees are required to provide professional development programs for counselors that are designed to enable them to more effectively “support student progress in completing tech prep programs, which may include the use of graduation and career plans.”
To respond to the concerns of legislators who sought more accountability for federal funding, the new law requires stronger transitions between secondary and postsecondary programs, adds a local accountability requirement, and grants states greater flexibility in how they spend funds.
“This legislation makes significant reforms to academic achievement and accountability to ensure students have the skills necessary to enter the workforce or continue to an institution of higher learning,” said Representative Mike Castle (R-DE), chairman of the House Education Reform subcommittee.