The House on Thursday passed a reauthorization of the federal law governing career and technical education, even as civil rights groups expressed concerns about a scaling back of federal authority and members of both parties worried about a proposed federal funding cut.
Republicans and Democrats both praised the bill during floor debate Thursday, saying it will set Americans up for secure, well-paying jobs and help employers fill positions in in-demand fields.
“All education is truly career education, and we must give our students every opportunity to attain the skills they need to succeed,” Education and the Workforce Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx said Thursday.
The affirmation came as President Trump has proposed cutting CTE funds by $168 million in his fiscal year 2018 budget proposal.
The House passed the bill by voice vote, meaning individual members didn’t cast yes or no votes. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act was last updated in 2006 and governs the roughly $1 billion given annually to states for career and technical education programs at secondary and post-secondary levels.
Rep. Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado, said he recently visited a P-TECH program in his home state that allows students to earn associate’s degrees alongside their high school diplomas to set them up for jobs in the tech industry.
“That’s exactly the kind of innovation Congress should be supporting, and I’m proud the Perkins reauthorization does just that,” he said.
The issue has been a big focus for the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The panel held a celebrity-headlined hearing on the issue in February, and Chairwoman Virginia Foxx spoke on the issue at a Washington think tank last month.
(The 74: Career and Technical Ed Should Be ‘Plan A,’ Foxx Says as House Takes Up Perkins Bill Today)
In the Senate, the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee slated to consider the bill has spent most of its time this year focused on executive branch nominations and efforts to rewrite Obamacare.
Wyoming Republican Sen. Mike Enzi will take the lead in the Senate, a spokesperson for HELP Chairman Lamar Alexander said.
“Reauthorizing the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act is a top priority for Chairman Alexander this Congress, and he has asked Senator Enzi to continue to make progress on the great work he did last Congress to develop a proposal for the Senate to consider,” the spokeswoman said.
Concerns over spending, federal oversight
Members, particularly Republicans, praised the bill for giving states more flexibility, particularly in funding education programs that better align with state workforce needs. The bill, like the Every Student Succeeds Act, also limits the education secretary’s authority in other areas, like penalizing states that don’t hit performance targets by withholding funds.
Those limitations are a concern for civil rights groups.
“While the bill includes many important changes to modernize the Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) program… it remains a flawed compromise due to its rollback of the federal role in holding states accountable for performance,” the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote in a letter to members of the House.
The bill would eliminate the Education Department’s role in negotiating plans that require states to improve performance, including gaps in performance between student groups, the advocates wrote.
“While greater state level engagement in the development of state plans is a worthwhile goal, it should go hand-in-hand with the secretary’s explicit authority to intervene at all stages of the process if targets are insufficiently ambitious or are not being met,” the letter said.
Rep. Bobby Scott, the Education and the Workforce Committee’s ranking Democrat, said the bill continues a focus on equity of opportunity and that the education secretary still has the authority to approve or disapprove state plans for using the funds.
Members also briefly mentioned the larger issue overhanging the debate: the Trump administration’s proposed $977 million for the programs in 2018, which would be about a 13 percent cut.
Rep. Katherine Clark, Democrat of Massachusetts, urged leaders “to fully fund the CTE programs and reject the proposed cuts of $168 million.”
Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Glenn Thompson, the primary sponsor of the bill, also urged more funding for the programs.
“It is important we continue to fund these programs at the authorized levels so the programs can adequately serve students at all ages,” he said at the conclusion of the floor debate.
Congress has appropriated $1.125 billion annually for the grants for the past several years.
The bill authorizes $1.133 billion next fiscal year, an amount that increases in small increments through fiscal 2023, though it’s up to the Appropriations committees to dole out funds every year.
The House in September passed a similar bill, but the Senate never considered it, reportedly because of a fight between the two parties over authority given to the education secretary.