In 1984, Congress authorized the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, which seeks to provide secondary and postsecondary students with the education and skills they need to succeed in the workplace. Since 1984, the Perkins Act has been reauthorized twice, the last time being in 2006, making the most recent update a decade old.
This act authorized a range of career and technical education (CTE) programs, stretching from health care to information technology to mechanical construction. The best programs allow students to work toward certifications and apprenticeships while still in secondary school.
As I travel throughout the Third District meeting with job creators, a constant refrain is that there are not enough people with the right skills to fill the jobs they have available. Each time I hear this, I am more and more convinced that we have duped a generation into believing the only key to success is pursuing a four-year degree. Oftentimes, students do not finish that degree, and even if they do, they are left with thousands of dollars in student debt and even worse, no job prospects. Instead of forcing students into a one-size-fits-all future, CTE education allows students to gain the skills they need to access high-demand, well-paying jobs, without the burdens often associated with other educational routes.
On June 28, 2016, Representative Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania introduced the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (H.R. 5587), which reauthorizes the 1984 Perkins Act. On July 7, 2016, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce reported the bill by unanimous consent. This reauthorization focuses on four main objectives: empowering state and local leaders, improving alignment with in-demand jobs, increasing transparency and accountability, and ensuring a limited federal role.
To accomplish these objectives, the reauthorization first simplifies the application process for federal CTE funds, ensuring that this process is better-aligned with the workforce development plan that states are expected to submit under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. By ensuring that states do not have to reinvent the wheel, it allows them to focus resources on the actual work of preparing students for their careers.
At the same time, H.R. 5587 allows states to focus federal resources on in-demand jobs determined at the state level. One way they will do this is through prioritizing partnerships with employers in each community, allowing students to train with local companies that will be able to offer them jobs after graduation.
The bill also ensures transparency by allowing states to create targeted levels of performance and then report the results annually. The state plans will be created through an open process that encourages input from parents, students, and state and local leaders.
Finally, Representative Thompson’s reauthorization puts power back in the hands of the states by removing the requirement to negotiate targeted performance levels with the Secretary of Education, while at the same time, removing the Secretary’s ability to withhold funds from states – instead allowing states to develop improvement plans to get back on target.
I believe the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act is an important step forward in creating opportunities for the next generation, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to bring this to the President’s desk.