Yesterday morning, the House Education and the Workforce (HEW) Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education hosted the chamber’s first hearing related to the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins) in the 114th Congress. This hearing is part of the HEW Committee’s larger efforts to reauthorize the law which has been due for renewal for several years.
The hearing titled, “Improving Career and Technical Education to Help Students Succeed in the Workforce” gave a platform to four expert witnesses to provide insights and perspectives on a number of important issues related to the CTE enterprise:
- Dr. Deneece G. Huftalin, President, Salt Lake Community College (SLCC)
- Dr. Douglas Major, Superintendent/CEO, Meridian Technology Center (MTC)
- Dr. Irelene Ricks, Director, Keystone Symposia on Molecular and Cellular Biology
- Mr. Tim Johnson, Director of Government Relations, National Center for Construction Education and Research (NCCER)
On the whole, the hearing focused primarily on specific efforts, initiatives, and programs in the CTE space that could be looked to as models for renewing aspects of the Perkins Act. Subcommittee Chairman, Todd Rokita (R-IN) framed the day’s discussion by talking about Congress’ bipartisan effort to pass the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) last year and the need to align Perkins to portions of that law in order to address the nation’s skills gap.
Dr. Huftalin kicked the day’s panel off by talking about SLCC’s innovative partnership with the Boeing Company—a relationship that evolved into the impressive Utah Aerospace Pathways program which strongly aligns secondary and postsecondary CTE coursework with the needs of the state’s aviation industry. As Dr. Huftalin pointed out in her remarks that, “Perkins funding was crucial for SLCC’s ability to maintain and grow key CTE programs for our students at a time when our enrollment was rapidly increasing.”
Former ACTE President and current leader of Meridian Technology Center in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Dr. Major followed by highlighting the critical importance of career exploration to his center’s success and called for the next iteration of Perkins to increase flexibility in supporting career awareness and guidance activities.
Dr. Ricks focused her comments on the need for Perkins to more seamlessly connect with state and local efforts to develop career pathways. She also emphasized CTE’s significant impact on student graduation rates, noting that minority student populations who have higher rates of high school non-completion would stand to benefit immensely from strong support for CTE programs via the Perkins Act.
Rounding off the opening statements was Mr. Johnson of NCCER who focused his remarks on the need for CTE programs to partner closely with members of the local business community. He also touched on the need to strengthen the CTE teacher pipeline in future legislation succinctly noting in part that, “. . . it’s easier to turn a pipefitter into a teacher than it is to turn a teacher into a pipefitter.”
Following these opening statements, the hearing was opened up to questions from committee members. HEW Chairman Kline (R-MN) questioned the witnesses on the extent to which they have partnered or engaged with the Workforce Development Boards authorized under WIOA. HEW Ranking Member Scott (D-VA) pursued a line of questioning focused on the need to ensure that CTE and core academics were appropriately integrated.
A large part of the discussion centered on the need to adequately fund CTE and the Perkins Act with House CTE-Caucus co-chair Rep. Langevin (D-RI) and Subcommittee Ranking Member Fudge (D-OH) each noting the negative impact that sequestration has had on the Perkins Act basic state grant program and the ability of CTE programs to meet increasing demand. Rep. Carter (R-GA) questioned whether moving Perkins to a competitive funding structure would address these concerns—all four witnesses strongly rejected this idea as it would undermine Perkins’ foundational support for CTE programs throughout the country.
Rep. Fudge, along with Reps. Clark (D-MA) and Bishop (R-MI) each had questions on how to effectively harness labor market information to ensure CTE programs relate to the needs of the economy. Another important dynamic of these discussions focused on how to appropriately balance the short-term job training needs of employers with the longer-term educational needs of students.
While much of the day’s conversation revolved around Perkins and CTE’s role in workforce development efforts, Rep. Bonamici (D-OR) reminded her colleagues that “the ‘E’ part in CTE stands for education, so we’re not trying to convert education into job training. This is about educating students to be prepared for whatever path they choose” as a way to bring the conversation back to how to most effectively support students for lifelong career success.
House CTE-Caucus co-chair and long-time champion of CTE in Congress, Rep. Thompson (R-PA) expanded on Dr. Major’s earlier point on the need for greater federal support for career counseling and advisement. He also emphasized the importance of engaging parents and families as a way to overcome lingering stigmas related to CTE.
Subcommittee Chairman Rokita ended the hearing with a simple question to the witnesses—‘what needs to be fixed in the Perkins Act?’
Dr. Huftalin focused her answer on future legislation more effectively aligning current Perkins accountability metrics to other federal programs and Dr. Ricks spoke about the need to better engage minority serving institutions at the secondary and postsecondary levels. Significantly, Dr. Major recommended to lawmakers that the next Perkins Act should focus on quality and called for future legislation to fund programs that are meeting minimum thresholds of excellence to ensure that students and employers alike benefit from high-quality CTE.
Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager