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Bipartisan Legislation Tackles Career and Technical Education

The Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, signed into law today by President Trump, was long overdue for an update – it was last authorized in 2006. The law authorizes nearly $6 billion in federal spending over the next 5 years for vocational programs. The bipartisan bill was introduced by Senators Enzi (R-WY) and Casey (D-PA) with the strong support of presidential adviser Ivanka Trump and approved unanimously in both chambers.

Congress appropriated $1.2 billion for the program in the 2018 Omnibus Appropriation Act approved earlier this spring, an annual authorized level continued in the Act signed into law today.

Roughly 12 million students rely on Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs, which generally offer cost-effective, short-term training for students to develop specialized skills in a number of industries, including health sciences, consumer services, and manufacturing. Federal spending on CTE through the Perkins Act totals over $1 billion annually, the majority of which goes towards Basic State Grants. These grants support technical education programs for both secondary and postsecondary students at community colleges, technical schools, and other public or non-profit programs.

The 2018 reauthorization maintains this core structure, but it proposes several significant changes to the program, namely by delegating federal oversight to the states and by promoting “work-based learning” opportunities, such as apprenticeships and internships.

Shifting Federal Accountability to the States

This legislation diminishes the federal role in CTE accountability and quality assurance. Previously, states were required to negotiate performance expectations and curricula for their schools in their state with the secretary of education in order to receive Perkins funds. Under the reauthorization, states can independently determine their evaluation measures when applying for Perkins funding—so long as they reference “core indicators of performance,” federally established metrics such as high school graduation rates and post-secondary credential attainment rates. The education secretary may only reject a plan if it inadequately addresses these “core indicators” or fails to project “meaningful progress” in these metrics.

CTE programs are an important aspect of workforce development, offering students alternative career pathways. 

The legislation also supports increased input from the public. Before applying for Perkins funding, states must solicit comments from interested parties — teachers, students, families, labor unions, and others – and must include responses to those comments in their Perkins applications to the Department of Education. States are also required to release annual performance reports in a “user-friendly format” to ensure public accountability. Additionally, these reports must be sorted by demographic characteristics and field of study.

The education secretary will retain the right to withhold funding from states that fail to meet 90 percent of their performance benchmarks for two consecutive years. This provision gives teeth to the core indicators and meaningful-progress requirement—not only must they be considered by states during the application phase, but they must also be met in order for states to continue receiving federal support.

Work-Based Learning

Apprenticeships and internships are increasingly important elements of the U.S. education system, and the Perkins reauthorization includes a number of efforts to expand these work-based learning opportunities. For example, it requires state agencies to describe available opportunities in their Perkins application, and instructs the education secretary to annually report to Congress on rates of work-based learning participation. The legislation also supports work-based learning by granting additional funds to states with innovative programs.


CTE programs are an important aspect of workforce development, offering students alternative career pathways besides a traditional four-year college education. Reauthorization of the Perkins Act highlights that bipartisanship can be possible even in a polarized political environment.

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