Yesterday afternoon, the Senate Career Technical Education (CTE) Caucus held its first event of the year which explored a variety of issues facing CTE in rural communities. Titled “Investing in America’s Heartland: The Role of Career Technical Education in Rural Communities,” the event consisted of a panel discussion between four experts in the fields of CTE and rural issues:
- Dr. Alice Davis, Executive Director, Susquehanna County Career & Technology Center
- Lucy Johnson, U.S. Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary for Rural Outreach
- Johan Uvin, U.S. Department of Education Acting Assistant Secretary, Office of Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE)
- Matt Lohr, Director, Farm Credit Knowledge Center
Caucus co-Chair Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) kicked things off, sharing his personal experiences with CTE and describing his time as Governor of Virginia where the state incorporated CTE into its Governor’s Academies initiative. The Senator also highlighted the recent re-introduction of the Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce Act of 2015— legislation that was co-sponsored by fellow Caucus co-Chair Senator Rob Portman (R-OH). NASDCTEc was supportive of this bill last year and has applauded the renewed effort in this Congress to ensure students have access to high-quality CTE programs of study throughout the country. Read the full bill and press release here.
Following these remarks, the panelists discussed core issues facing rural communities within the context of CTE including challenges in teacher recruitment and retention, technical infrastructure, adequate funding, and rural employer capacity. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. students live in an area defined as rural making these issues all the more pressing. As panelist Lucy Johnson, former Mayor of Kyle, Texas pointed out, “CTE meant progress and prosperity for my constituents.”
Throughout the event, the importance of the Carl D. Perkins CTE Act (Perkins) to rural CTE was highlighted. In particular, panelists emphasized specific provisions in the law that have helped to support CTE in rural communities and underscored the significance of this critically important federal investment.
Kline Talks Perkins Reauthorization, Outlines Priorities
Early yesterday morning, Chairman Kline addressed the American Enterprise Institute outlining his priorities for education reform in the 114th Congress and his plans for the House Education and the Workforce Committee (HEW).
Although the majority of the hour long event focused on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Kline devoted a portion of his formal remarks to call for the reauthorization of the Perkins Act. Calling CTE programs supported by the law “valuable” and “important” the Chairman declared that, “The jobs are there, people need the skills, CTE education will help, but the law needs reform— my colleagues are passionate about improving this law.” He outlined three areas of priority for the Committee in reauthorization:
- Strengthening the connection between CTE coursework and industry needs and labor market demands
- Supporting secondary to postsecondary transitions for CTE students
- Enhancing the Perkins accountability framework to hold programs accountable for taxpayer dollars
Although the Chairman did not elaborate further on these priorities, it is encouraging to see that CTE remains a central issue for the 114th Congress, particularly at a time when lawmakers are predominately engrossed with reauthorizing ESEA. No formal timeline for the reauthorization of the Perkins Act was offered during his remarks, although the Chairman did lay out an ambitious plan for ESEA reauthorization which mirrors that of the Senate’s.
Video of the event can be accessed here.
Senate HELP Committee Holds ESEA Hearing
On Wednesday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee held its first hearing of the 114th Congress. Titled “Fixing No Child Left Behind: Testing and Accountability,” the hearing focused on the annual testing provisions contained in current law which mandates 17 tests— one in math and reading in grades 3 through 8, and once for each subject in high school, along with semi-regular assessments in science in elementary, middle and high school.
Six witnesses provided expert testimony regarding this issue and a majority (four out of the six) overwhelming supported maintaining these provisions. HELP Committee Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) came out in support of the provisions as well saying, “Assessments help parents and communities hold schools accountable. . . If a school is failing students year after year, parents and communities deserve to have that information and be assured the school will get the resources it needs to improve.” Yet, fellow Democrats and even some Republicans on the Committee remained divided or somewhere in the middle on the contentious issue.
For the time being, HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) has sided with the latter camp, saying after the hearing that, “I think it’s OK to have an open mind on some questions, and mine is still open.” Nevertheless, the Chairman’s recently released discussion draft seeking to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) would give states two options when it comes to testing: either maintain the current assessment scheme in current law with the ability to slightly modify the types of assessments, or allow states to come up with any testing scheme of their choosing.
A recording of the hearing can be found here along with witness information, testimony, and other useful information. The HELP Committee is planning another ESEA hearing next week, on teachers and school leaders and has an ambitious timeline for reauthorization— a bill out of committee by the end of February and up to two weeks of floor time following that. Both Chairman Alexander and Chairman Kline, his counterpart in the House, have publicly stated they hope to have full ESEA reauthorization bills done by the end of March.
HEW Holds Organizational Meeting
The House Education and the Workforce (HEW) Committee held its organizational meeting on Wednesday where Chairman John Kline (R-MN) announced chairs of the various Subcommittees. Both Representatives Virginia Foxx (R-NC) and Todd Rokita (R-IN) will remain chairs of the Higher Education and Workforce Training and the Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittees respectively. Both have oversight responsibilities of interest to the CTE community, including the reauthorization of the Perkins Act.
Committee Democrats, now led by Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-VA), have yet to announce their assignments, although they did lay out some of their priorities in Scott’s prepared remarks.
The Committee also adopted its Oversight Plan which, among other things, outlines areas of particular interest for oversight and investigation in the new Congress, including the U.S. Department of Education’s ESEA waiver authority, various federally funded K-12 programs, regulations pertaining to costs and transparency in higher education as well as the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
Odds & Ends
As we shared earlier this week, President Obama delivered his annual State of the Union address to Congress. The White House recently released a supplemental document outlining and expanding on several aspects of the speech. The document can be found here.
The Senate HELP Committee has announced it will mark-up the Educational Sciences Reform Act (ESRA) on January 28. The legislation funds SLDS grants and helps build state and local data capacity among other positive aspects of the law.
House Democrats have released a useful Frequently-Asked-Questions document on sequestration. As the Fiscal Year 2016 budget and appropriations process begins, sequestration will be a central feature of the debate. Find more information here.
Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager