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Legislative Update: Cromnibus Edges Through Congress, Administration Announces New Apprenticeship Grants

December 15th, 2014

CapitolBy narrow margins in both the House and the Senate, Congress managed to pass omnibus appropriations legislation over the weekend to fund most of the federal government for the remainder of Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. Totaling $1.1 trillion, the legislation will fund the majority of the federal government until October 1, 2015.

Earlier in the week, House Republicans had introduced the 2015 Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act (H.R. 83)— hybrid legislation that combined aspects of a continuing appropriations resolution (CR) and more comprehensive appropriations for all federal departments and agencies with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Known as a cromnibus, this legislation was heatedly debated in the House on Thursday night and passed by a margin of 219 – 206. Following the vote the Chamber adjourned for the rest of the 113th Congress and is not expected to return until the start of the new 114th Congress beginning in early January.

With the December 11th deadline for the most recent CR having come and gone, Congress also passed another short-term CR to avert a government shutdown while the bill worked its way over to the Senate for further debate this past Friday and Saturday. Despite strong opposition from conservatives and liberals alike, the cromnibus was approved in the Senate by a 56 – 40 vote late Saturday night.

On the whole, H.R. 83 largely maintains funding levels from the previous fiscal year for most programs and departments, although it cuts approximately $166 million from the U.S. Department of Education’s (ED) discretionary budget. Fortunately the Carl D. Perkins Act’s (Perkins) basic state grant program (BSG) was excluded from these reductions. Instead this legislation level-funds the BSG program at $1.118 billion— the same amount the program received in FY 2014.

Although NASDCTEc and the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) recently urged lawmakers to fund the program at slightly higher levels, maintaining current investment levels for the BSG program is a minor victory in the context of the changing political and fiscal dynamics on Capitol Hill— particularly at time when other programs in the discretionary side of the federal budget have been forced to shoulder even larger reductions over the past several years.

H.R. 83 also contained a number of controversial policy riders— provisions unrelated to appropriations— that were the focus of much debate on the legislation. Nearly all of the most contentious riders, such as changes to campaign finance and banking laws, were ultimately included in the legislation. Despite these riders, President Obama has publicly committed to signing the legislation into law sometime this week.

Of particular interest to the CTE community was the partial restoration of the federal Pell Grant program’s “ability-to-benefit” (ATB) provision— something that NASDCTEc has been advocating for in the context of the Higher Education Act’s reauthorization. This change affords students who do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent, access to the federal financial aid program if they are also enrolled in a career pathways program as defined in the new law. An additional $6 million in funding was also set-aside for a competitive grant program under ED to improve data system coordination and quality at the local, state and national levels and is expected to roll-out in the coming year.

Despite the late night passage of the bill in the Senate, the Chamber remains open today and possibly further into the week as lawmakers there work on last-minute legislation and confirmations for many Obama Administration nominees for various government posts.

DOL Unveils Apprenticeship Grants

Last Friday, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) announced a new $100 million competitive grant program to support the expansion of apprenticeship programs in high-growth and high-skill occupational areas. The American Apprenticeship Grant (AAG) program, is the successor to last year’s Youth CareerConnect grants and are funded through H-1B visa fees. Administration and Department officials hope the program will spur an expansion of apprenticeship programs into sectors of the economy which has not traditionally used them, such as information technology, healthcare, and advanced manufacturing.

Approximately 25 grants will be awarded to public-private partnerships consisting of at least one public and private entity. Eligible entities include employers, industry associations, joint labor-management organizations, labor organizations, training providers, community colleges, local and state governments, the workforce system, non-profits and faith-based organizations. Grant amounts will range from $2.5 million to $5 million each and must make efforts to align and coordinate with other postsecondary education programs and career pathways available in a state or local area.

Applications are due April 30, 2015 and more information on how to apply, including program factsheets and checklists, can be found here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager 

Congress Considers a Cromnibus, ED Announces Start of P3 Initiative

December 5th, 2014

CapitolA new term is quickly entering the beltway lexicon this holiday season— a hybrid funding approach known as a “cromnibus” is now under consideration by House Republicans which would fund most, but not all of the federal government for the remainder of the 2015 federal Fiscal Year (FY). As we have shared previously, Congress failed to enact the necessary appropriations legislation earlier this summer to fund governmental operations in FY 2015.

To avert another government shutdown, lawmakers passed a Continuing Appropriations Resolution (CR) in late September which temporarily extended FY 2014 funding levels into FY 2015 which began on October 1 of this year. Unfortunately, this extension resulted in a 0.054 percent across-the-board cut to all discretionary programs, including the Carl D. Perkins Act (Perkins) basic state grant program, because of lower revenue levels and lost savings elsewhere in the federal budget in FY 2015. Since that time, Congress has struggled to come to a longer-term agreement for how to fund the federal government past the current CR’s expiration date on December 11, 2014.

NASDCTEc and its partners in the Career Technical Education (CTE) community have recently called on Congress to pass comprehensive omnibus appropriations legislation in lieu of another temporary funding measure. An omnibus would replace the current CR with a consolidated package of the necessary 12 individual appropriations bills needed to fund the federal government— a move which would give greater certainty to the CTE community regarding future funding levels for the Perkins Act’s basic state grant program.

Despite a number of obstacles over the past several weeks, House Republicans now seem to be coalescing around the legislative strategy of a cromnibus—legislation which fuses an omnibus and a CR into one bill. In this proposal, eleven out of the 12 annual appropriations bills— including the legislation which funds the U.S. Department of Education and relatedly the Perkins Act— would receive funding for the remainder of FY 2015. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the primary federal agency tasked with implementing President Obama’s recent executive action on immigration, would receive another temporary funding bill into the early part of next year.

In pursuing this strategy, House Republicans hope to leverage future concessions on immigration policy from the Obama Administration using a series of CRs to fund DHS moving forward. While a final version of this legislation has yet to be released, Congressional Democrats and President Obama have not said whether they would accept such a deal, although more recently both have signaled they may be open to such an approach. Democratic receptiveness to the cromnibus approach will likely hinge on the inclusion of other “policy riders” in the legislation— something that both parties in Congress are currently negotiating.

Check back here early next week when NASDCTEc expects further Congressional activity on federal funding.

U.S. Department of Education Announces P3 Initiative

As we shared earlier this year, the U.S. Departments of Education (ED), Labor (DOL), and Health & Human Services (HHS) announced a new initiative to more effectively support disconnected youth by granting additional flexibility to existing federally-funded programs to develop innovative solutions and strategies in local communities across the country.

Dubbed Performance Pilot Partnerships, or P3 for short, the agencies will select ten local applications to launch pilot projects using additional flexibility for existing discretionary grant programs administered by the agencies. Local Perkins grant recipients are among the programs eligible to participate in these pilots. An additional $700,000 in funding will be available for successful applicants who the departments hope will “braid” existing funding streams together in new ways to more effectively support disconnected youth.

Applications are due by March 4, 2105 and the winners of the project will be announced further into next year. More information on P3 can be found here and application details can be accessed here.

Senator Harkin Introduces HEA Proposal

Just before Thanksgiving last week, soon-to-be-retired Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, formally introduced the Higher Education and Affordability Act. The bill seeks to reauthorize the Higher Education Act which is set to expire in the coming year.

Although the bill will not move out of the HELP Committee prior to the new 114th Congress set to begin next year, the legislation does contain a number of promising proposals which NASDCTEc has been supportive of including:

  • Restoring the Pell Grant Program’s “Ability-to-Benefit” and “Year-round Pell” provisions
  • Repealing the ban on the creation of student unit record system and enable accurate measurement of postsecondary student outcomes
  • Strengthening support for early college and dual enrollment programs
  • Encouraging employer-community college partnerships

NASDCTEc applauds the Senator’s commitment to affordable high-quality postsecondary education and looks forward to reauthorization process of HEA in the New Year. More information on the bill can be found here and the text of the legislation is located here. The next incoming Chairman for the HELP Committee, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), is widely expected to prioritize the reauthorization of HEA in the next Congress.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager 

Congress Continues to Struggle on Appropriations Ahead of Presidential Announcement, VP Biden Talks CTE

November 20th, 2014

CapitolFollowing the midterm elections earlier this month, Congress reconvened last week to begin their final “lame duck” session of the 113th Congress. As the Republican Party prepares to take control of the Senate and with it the entire Congress, lawmakers must still grapple with a number of pressing issues before setting to work in the 114th Congress beginning in the New Year. Topping the list of Congressional to-do’s over the next several weeks is the need to pass legislation to fund the government to avert another shutdown of federal operations— something that only too recently happened late last year.

As we have previously shared, Congress failed to pass the necessary appropriations legislation to fund the federal government for Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. Instead, lawmakers passed a temporary stopgap funding measure known as a Continuing Appropriations Resolution (CR) which extended FY 2014 spending levels into the current 2015 federal fiscal year that began on October 1, 2014. However due to differences in revenue levels and lost savings elsewhere in the federal budget, this extension resulted in an across-the-board cut of 0.054 percent to all programs, including the Carl D. Perkins Act (Perkins).

Until recently, it was widely anticipated that a comprehensive omnibus appropriations bill— legislation that combines all of the necessary 12 appropriations bills into one package— would be passed by Congress sometime before the expiration date for the CR on December 11 of this year. Doing so would replace the current CR with a long-term agreement on federal spending until the next fiscal year and could possibly restore some of the funding reductions that were a result of the CR’s passage this past September. Senator Mikulski (D-MD) and Representative Hal Rogers (R-KY), the current Appropriations Committee Chairpersons in both the Senate and the House, have been working to finalize such a bill for the past several weeks and appear to be close to a final agreement.

However, it remains uncertain at this time if lawmakers will be able come to such an agreement before the December 11th deadline. Congressional Republicans and the Obama Administration are currently at odds over a widely expected Executive Action from the President on immigration— an announcement that will likely occur this evening. Many Republican lawmakers are opposed to such a move and have debated a number of responses including passing another short-term CR or possibly passing an Omnibus, but eliminating funding for federal departments or agencies which carry out aspects of the President’s expected action on immigration. Publicly, the Republican Party remains divided on how they will respond— whether through the appropriations process or otherwise.

Nonetheless, as Chairman Rogers recently pointed out, “We need to do an omnibus bill funding the entire government for the rest of the year, and get that whole business behind us, so that come January, [we] will have a clean slate rather than looking backwards to old fights that we could look forward to making positive changes.” NASDCTEc applauds this sentiment and remains hopeful that Congress will pass a comprehensive omnibus bill for the remainder of FY 2015. Along with the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE), NASDCTEc has recently called on Congress to pass this much needed legislation and restore the remaining cuts to the Perkins Act.

As this process unfolds we urge you, the Career Technical Education community, to do the same. Don’t know who your members of Congress are? Find out here.

AFL-CIO & AFT Host Vice President Biden for CTE & Workforce Development Summit

vpbidenLate last week, the AFL-CIO, along with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), hosted a “Career and Technical Education (CTE) Workforce Development Summit” which explored the ways CTE and workforce development programs can create multiple pathways for student success. “CTE has the promise and potential to help equip a new generation of workers with the skills and knowledge needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow, and to forge a new path to college and life,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten.

Vice President Joe Biden delivered the keynote address for the event, emphasizing the importance of education and employer partnerships. “These partnerships provide a seamless transition so folks can go from a classroom to a job, and from job to job within the industry they’re in,” he said, adding, “We have to maintain and enhance our workforce so we have the most sophisticated, best-trained workforce in the world.” Later on in the day, Snap-on Inc. Chairman and CEO, Nicholas Pinchuk couched this in even clearer terms declaring, ““We are in a global competition for jobs and the single best weapon is CTE. We need to out-skill the competition.”

During the all-day summit, several panels explored a number of CTE and workforce development issues, including employer engagement, apprenticeship programs, effectively using labor market information and strategies for scaling up other innovative education and workforce program models. Yet, the most common theme throughout the day centered on CTE’s evolution over the past several decades from vocational education and into today’s modern conception of CTE. Nearly every panelist agreed that today’s CTE has made extraordinary progress and is now very much a viable pathway for any number of postsecondary and career ambitions.

U.S. Secretary of Labor, Thomas Perez, capped off the day with a rousing address on the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) work on apprenticeships. Perez made a number of references to DOL’s upcoming grant program, the America Apprenticeship Initiative.  Grantees for this $100 million program— the successor to last year’s Youth CareerConnect grants— are expected to be announced by the end of the year.

More information on the summit can be found here.

NASDCTEc Finalizes Higher Education Recommendations

With the next Congress widely expected to take up the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, the consideration of the nation’s primary legislation governing the nation’s postsecondary education system presents a unique opportunity for the CTE community to have their voices heard as this process unfolds. To that end, NASDCTEc has recently finalized a set of recommendations for the reauthorization of the legislation which can be viewed here.

Odds & Ends

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) recently released a document outlining the “pillars” of his vision for a new Republican Congressional majority. Although education is part of this platform, the Perkins Act and CTE more generally were notably absent.

Yesterday the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education hosted a town hall listening session on the implementation of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) to aid in implementation of the new law. More recently, the Department of Education released a short video outlining the various intersection points between WIOA and Perkins IV.

The U.S. Department of Education’s recently finalized regulations defining “gainful employment” have been challenged in court by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities. Pending action by the court system, these regulations are still set to go into effect next year.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager 

Midterm Elections Place Republicans in Control of Congress, Gainful Employment Regulations Finalized

November 6th, 2014

CapitolThe long anticipated 2014 midterm elections took place on Tuesday, ushering in a wave of new Republicans into both chambers of Congress. The central question ahead of these elections rested on the balance of power in the Senate and with it full Republican control of the entire Congress. Late Tuesday night, that question was finally put to rest. As of this post, the GOP has picked up seven new seats in the Senate, with three races still in contention. In the House the results were much the same, with the Republicans swelling their majority in that Chamber to at least 243 and possibly 250— a high water mark for the Republican Party not seen since 1928.

Although a few races are still in contention, the Republican Party looks poised to add additional seats in both Chambers over the next several weeks, as the elections results continue to trickle in. Democrats who have served in both the House and the Senate on the Chambers’ respective education and appropriations committees have lost their seats which, along with the influx of new Republican lawmakers to the Capitol, will significantly change the composition of the Committees that oversee and ultimately fund the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins) along with other key education and workforce programs.

Senators Kay Hagan (D-NC) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) along with Representative Tim Bishop (D-NY), who have served on education and appropriations committees in both Chambers have all lost reelection. Two others including Senators Beigich (D-AK) and Landrieu (D-LA), are in races whose final outcome have yet to be determined.

So what does this all mean for the Career Technical Education community? First and foremost, the key Committees in both Chambers which will oversee the reauthorization of the Perkins Act— the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the House’s Education and the Workforce (HEW) Committee— will look dramatically different in the 114th Congress which is set to convene formally on January 3rd, 2015.

Current Ranking Member of the Senate’s HELP Committee, Lamar Alexander (R-TN), will likely become Chairman of this influential committee, where he is expected to prioritize the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and the Higher Education Act (HEA) in the committee’s legislative queue. Additionally, the retirement of Chairman Tom Harkin (D-IA) has positioned Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to likely take the Ranking Member position on the HELP Committee next January. Both Senators Alexander and Murray were among the main architects behind recent reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act— evidence that the two could also work in bipartisan fashion on other education and workforce issues.

In the House current HEW Chairman, John Kline (R-MN), is expected to retain his position pending Republican leadership approval of a request for a term-limit  extension to stay on as Chair (current House rules cap panel leadership at three terms). For the Democrats, Representative Bobby Scott (D-VA) is anticipated to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of current HEW Ranking Member George Miller (D-CA).

With the Republican Party set to take the reins of Congressional power early next year, the question now shifts to what education and workforce legislation— possibly including the Perkins Act— will be prioritized in a new Congress. Nevertheless, the current “lame duck” Congress still has much to accomplish beginning next week when both Chambers are set to reconvene.

As we have previously shared, Congress passed a Continuing Appropriations Resolution (CR) which extended Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 spending levels into the current FY 2015. This stopgap funding measure is set to expire on December 11th of this year and Congress must act to fund the federal government past that date. NASDCTEc and the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) have called on Congress to pass a comprehensive omnibus spending bill to replace the current CR and restore funding to the Perkins basic state grant program. Senate Democrats recently circulated a similar request last month.

As all of this and more unfolds over the coming weeks and months, check back here for more information and updates.

Gainful Employment Regulations Finalized and Released

Last Friday, the Obama Administration’s Department of Education (ED) released the final version of its widely anticipated “gainful employment” regulations which impact postsecondary institutions offering career education programs. These newly finalized rules, set to go into effect July 1st, 2015, regulate institutional eligibility to access Title IV federal student aid under the Higher Education Act (HEA). Current law requires that most for-profit programs and certificate programs at non-profit and public institutions prepare students for “gainful employment in a recognized occupation” to access Title IV student aid money. However, current statute does not fully define the term “gainful employment” and these regulations have sought to do just that.

As we have previously shared, these regulations are the result of nearly five years of off-and-on negotiated rulemaking sessions between a broad swath of the higher education community and ED. A previous attempt by the Department to implement new gainful employment regulations was struck down by a federal district court in 2012 which ruled that the rules were arbitrarily constructed and applied, but upheld ED’s authority to make a new, more fully justified set in the future. Last Friday, after months of negotiated rulemaking sessions failed to reach consensus agreement, ED released the final version of these regulations for public consumption.

Under the proposed regulations gainful employment will be measured using three criteria which ED hopes will identify and weed out the lowest-performing programs among the institutions and programs these regulations apply to. Almost all programs at for-profit postsecondary institutions, as well as non-degree programs at public and private nonprofit institutions, including some community colleges and area career technical education centers, will be subject to these new regulations which include:

  • Certification Requirements: Institutions must certify that their gainful employment programs meet accreditation standards, along with state or federal licensure requirements.
  • Accountability Metrics: To remain eligible to receive Title IV funds, gainful employment programs must meet two minimum standards for their graduates’ debt-to-earnings; less than 8 percent of total earnings or less than 20 percent of discretionary earnings.
  • Public Transparency: Institutions must make performance and outcome data— including costs, graduate earnings, debt and completion rates— publicly available for each of their gainful employment programs.

The Department’s factsheet which lays out these metrics in a bit more detail, can be found here.

Significantly, ED did not include a program cohort default rate (pCDR) as a third accountability metric— a measure which was included in the Department’s initial proposal this past spring. Many community colleges and sub-associate degree institutions argued that a pCDR metric would unfairly penalize their programs whose students largely do not receive any federal student aid.

While these regulations are set to go into effect July 1st, 2015, a transition period for institutions to meet the more stringent debt-to-earnings metrics will be established over the next seven years to allow programs to make the necessary changes to meet these new requirements. A press release from ED, containing more information can be found here and the final regulations can be found here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager 

Legislative Update: Congress Passes Temporary Funding Measure, Obama Administration Unveils Round IV of TAACCCT

September 29th, 2014

CapitolAs we shared earlier this month, Congress continued to struggle to pass the necessary appropriations legislation needed to fund the federal government in Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 set to begin October 1st, 2014. Despite topline spending caps put in place by the Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA) earlier this year, widespread disagreement on individual funding levels for certain programs ultimately derailed the budget and appropriations process which had been ongoing since the release of President Obama’s budget request to Congress this past March.

In order to avert another federal government shutdown similar to what happened this time last year, Congress passed a short-term Continuing Appropriations Resolution (CR) which extends current FY 2014 spending levels through December 11th, 2014. Currently, federal programs are being funded via the 2014 Omnibus spending package passed this past January which increased funding for the Perkins act by $53.2 million over FY 2013 levels.

President Obama has recently signed this legislation into law which will continue funding the Perkins Act at this level, at least until a longer-term agreement is reached. This is likely to occur sometime after the conclusion of the Congressional midterm elections this November. Following the passage of this legislation, both Chambers of Congress adjourned until after these elections— the results of which will largely determine the ability of Congress to accomplish its remaining legislative agenda for the year.

It is important to note that while this CR extends current funding levels, imbalances between FY 2014 revenue levels and those projected for FY 2015 will result in a small across-the-board reduction to all discretionary programs, including the Perkins Act for the duration of this CR. For the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the programs it oversees, this cut translates into a 0.0554 percent reduction in funding, which will require revisions to the FY 2015 budget estimates released to states for the Perkins Act basic state grant program.

As ED revises these estimates, NASDCTEc will keep the CTE community abreast to changes in Perkins funding and will continue to advocate for a full-year appropriations bill when Congress reconvenes in November.

Obama Administration Announces TAACCCT Grants

This morning, Vice President Joe Biden unveiled the winners of the fourth and final round of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Community College and Career Training (TAACCCT) grants worth $450 million in total. This initiative traces its roots back to 2009, as part of the Obama Administration’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) which allocated roughly $2 billion in competitive grant funding for community colleges and other eligible postsecondary institutions to expand career training programs lasting two years or less.

Since 2009, three rounds of grants have been awarded to a variety of institutions seeking to strengthen and expand workforce training partnerships across the country. This last round focused on bringing to scale in-demand job training programs through industry partnerships, promoting seamless transitions between education and training, and improving upon statewide employment end education data use.

In all nearly 270 community colleges partnering with more than 400 employers received 71 grants, which is co-administered by the U.S. Departments of Education and Labor. More information can be found here.

Senators Introduce CTE Teacher Training Legislation

Senate CTE Caucus co-chairs Tim Kaine (D-VA), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Creating Quality Technical Educators Act this month, legislation that aims to address an ongoing CTE teacher shortage in many states and local communities throughout the country. Specifically, this bill would amend the Higher Education Act to create a CTE teacher-training grant program to encourage partnerships between high-need secondary and postsecondary CTE institutions to recruit and train high-quality CTE teachers. Presently, HEA has a similar program in place to promote these efforts, but it does not currently focus on CTE specifically.

NASDCTEc applauds this legislation and is encouraged by the Senators’ continued commitment to the CTE enterprise. A press release with additional information on this bill can be found here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Manager 

New CTE Legislation Introduced in the Senate, Caucus Event Highlights Confluence of CTE & Literacy

September 15th, 2014

CapitolLate last week Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), co-Chair of the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, introduced the Career and Technical Education Opportunity Act (S. 2795)— legislation aimed at expanding eligibility for federal student aid programs to postsecondary CTE students. Co-sponsored by fellow Senate CTE Caucus co-Chair Tim Kaine (D-VA), the legislation amends the Higher Education Act (HEA) to allow students enrolled in shorter-term CTE programs that lead to an industry-recognized credential to qualify for federally backed student loans made available under Title IV of the law.

Specifically the CTE Opportunity Act amends current program eligibility requirements under HEA to incorporate programs that have at least 250 clock hours offered over a minimum duration of five weeks of instruction (a lower threshold than current law), so long as the program culminates in an industry-recognized credential in demand within a local, regional or state economy. NASDCTEc has supported this legislation and applauds the Senators’ ongoing commitment to ensure equitable access to federal student aid programs for postsecondary CTE students.

“As our nation works to educate and train students of today for the jobs of tomorrow, it is critical that we afford them the necessary resources to complete education and training programs that are most demanded by employers” said NASDCTEc Executive Director, Kimberly Green during the bill’s introduction last week. A press release and additional information on the bill can be found here.

Senate CTE Caucus Hosts Briefing on CTE and Literacy

Last Thursday, the Senate CTE Caucus hosted a briefing on strategies and approaches for integrating literacy services with Career Technical Education (CTE) coursework. The event aimed to highlight the interdependency between CTE and literacy programs—particularly technical literacy— provided by schools as a way to combine efforts to prepare students for the demands of the workplace. Three distinguished panelists, including Sheila Harrity Principal of Worcester Technical High School and a recent Principal-of-the-Year participated in the event.

The briefing began by highlighting an ongoing collaborative effort between two experienced CTE practitioners from the Arlington Career Center who have successfully integrated their Information Technology (IT) program with the school’s English Language Learners (ELL) department in a number innovative ways. For instance, students from Arlington’s IT programs developed a mobile app dictionary for students in ELL programs to use and also developed related games for ELL students to hone their vocabulary and grammar. For her part, Harrity highlighted her school’s journey to becoming a leading national CTE school, while highlighting the importance of strong partnerships with community businesses and other employers to the school’s success to date.

Following the panel’s presentations, Senators and CTE Caucus Co-Chairs Kaine (D-VA) and Baldwin (D-WI) gave remarks on several new bills they had recently introduced, including the CTE Opportunity Act outlined above and the Middle STEP Act introduced last week. Summing up the overall narrative of the briefing, Senator Kaine captured it succinctly in his remarks saying, “I detect an ongoing transformation in how we view Career and Technical Education.”

Odds and Ends

As we shared in May, the full House approved legislation which aims to reauthorize the Education Sciences Reform Act (ESRA). Titled the Strengthening Education Through Research Act (SETRA), the bill continues its support of education research programs and, of particular note to the CTE community, grants for state longitudinal data systems (SLDS). The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee is set to hold a mark-up of this legislation this Wednesday, September 17th. The Chamber is also expected to bring last week’s Continuing Resolution (CR) to the floor for a House-wide vote tomorrow or Wednesday of this week.

The U.S. Department of Education awarded $14.7 million to 40 school districts in 20 states across the nation late last month to create or expand school counseling programs in elementary and secondary schools. More info on the program and project abstracts can be found here.

Next Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014, the U.S. Departments of Labor, Education and Health and Human Services will host a National Dialogue on Career Pathways. Leaders from these agencies will provide insights into how to effectively develop and sustain these promising models. More information can be found here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Legislative Update: House Delays Action on CR, CTE Legislation Introduced in the Senate, OCTAE Hosts RPOS Briefing

September 11th, 2014

CapitolHaving just returned from a month-long August recess, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) introduced a Continuing Resolution (CR) late Tuesday night to extend current Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 appropriations levels through December 11th, 2014. Current federal appropriations are set to expire October 1st, 2014. Congress must act prior to that date to avert a shutdown of government operations when the new FY 2015 is set to begin. Despite the topline spending caps put in place via the Bipartisan Budget Agreement (BBA) earlier this year, widespread disagreement on individual program funding levels has largely contributed to much of the Congressional gridlock seen throughout the year. In the later parts of the summer, with the November midterm elections fast approaching and with the Congress’ annual August recess commencing, it became apparent to lawmakers in both parties that a temporary funding measure would be necessary to fund government operations after the deadline.

After much anticipation, the Chairman introduced H.J. Resolution 124 which would extend current FY 2014 funding through December 11th, 2014 to do just that. Due to differences in FY 2014 and FY 2015 spending levels, this extension will result in a small across-the-board cut to all discretionary spending programs totaling 0.0554 percent. For the Department of Education (ED) specifically, that would result in a $37.3 million reduction in funds. However, since most ED programs such as the Carl D. Perkins Act’s (Perkins) basic state grant program, are funded in advance (also known as forward funded) this reduction will have no impact on current funding levels for these programs until a longer-term decision on appropriations is made ahead of the extension deadline in December. Another important feature of this particular CR is that it contains no unrelated amendments or “riders”— something that would make its passage much more difficult— and will likely be considered under House rules preventing the proposal of such controversial amendments.

Although the House intended to act on this legislation yesterday, Republican leadership in the Chamber announced that they have postponed a vote until next week. This delay is being attributed to a last-minute request from the Obama administration for additional funding authority to aid Syrian rebels’ efforts in the region. However, there is also some conservative opposition to the length of the CR and the extension of the Export-Import Bank which may make its passage more difficult. Nevertheless, NASDCTEc expects a vote in the House on this CR by the middle of next week.

Senators Introduce Middle STEP Act

Yesterday Senator Kaine (D-VA), co-chair of the Senate Career and Technical Education (CTE) Caucus, introduced the Middle School Technical Education Program (Middle STEP) Act which would promote career exploration activities in middle school. The Middle STEP Act proposes to establish a pilot program for middle schools to develop CTE exploration programs in partnership with postsecondary institutions and employers.

Co-sponsored by Senators Boxer (D-CA), Casey (D-PA), and Warner (D-VA), the Middle STEP Act aims to “expose students to a wide range of career choices through hands-on learning so they will be more informed about future paths and what they can do in high school to pursue them,” according to Sen. Kaine. “Middle school is an important time for students to explore their own strengths, likes, and dislikes, and CTE exploration programs are great tools to educate them about the type of coursework or training that goes into a career field that matches their interests.”

NASDCTEc provided input during the development of the legislation and is supportive of the Senators’ vigorous interest in promoting career exploration— a critically important feature in many successful CTE programs. The Association of Career and Technical Education (ACTE) also issued a statement of support for this legislation which can be viewed here.

OCTAE Briefing on RPOS

Earlier this week, the Office of Career, Adult & Technical Education (OCTAE) at the U.S. Department of Education held a briefing on the Rigorous Programs of Study (RPOS) grant, bringing together state and local educators from the grantee states – Arizona, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, Wisconsin and Utah.

The briefing covered a range of local outcomes from the RPOS grant, such as new collaboration between CTE, mathematics and literacy teachers at Helena High School in Montana; a new system of stackable credentials and credits between Peoria high schools, Glendale Community College and Northern Arizona University; and industry externships for counselors in Wichita, Kansas. The common theme from the 13 secondary and postsecondary educators representing the six states was that the RPOS framework and supportive grant helped raise the rigor, partnerships and credibility of CTE in their communities.

Odds and Ends

With the recent passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the process for implementation of the legislation is underway. To that end, the U.S. Department of Education and Labor asked for public input into the development of accountability metrics which will eventually be required under the law. In response, NASDCTEc and ACTE submitted joint comments which can be viewed here.

The U.S. Department of Labor announced $76.3 million in YouthBuild grants in August. More information can be found here. The U.S. Department of Education also released new information regarding their Performance Partnership Pilots (P3) initiative. An updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) page, recent presentation recordings, and an updated consultation paper have all been added to the department’s website.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Legislative Update: WIOA Becomes Law, VP Releases Federal Job Training Review as Competency-Based Education Gains Support

July 30th, 2014

CapitolLast Tuesday, President Obama signed into law the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), historic legislation which supports workforce development activities throughout the country and funds job training programs for displaced youth and adults. This legislation reauthorizes and modernizes the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 and makes a number of positive improvements to that law. Over the past two months, WIOA was approved in both the House and Senate by overwhelming majorities before making its way to the President’s desk for signature.

Following its enactment into law, the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education have now set to work developing the necessary policies and regulatory guidance for states and local areas to implement the provisions of WIOA.  NASDCTEc will continue to engage in this process and keep the CTE community up-to-date as the law is implemented. Additional information from the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education can be found here and here. Important dates and key deadlines for WIOA’s implementation can be found on this timeline.

Vice President Releases Review of Federal Job Training Programs

On the same day that President Obama signed WIOA into law, Vice President Joe Biden released a long anticipated review of federal job training programs. Following his 2014 State of the Union address President Obama directed the Vice President to lead an across-the-board review of these programs, working closely with members of the President’s Cabinet. This review is the result of that months-long process. In Vice President Biden’s remarks, he called the passage of WIOA an opportunity to outline in greater detail “how to keep and maintain the highest-skilled workforce in the world.”

The  report titled “Ready to Work: Job-Driven Training and American Opportunity” presents a number of findings on the effectiveness of existing job training programs and makes a series of recommendations for how to improve on those efforts. Among the many actions steps proposed in the report is a seven-component “Job-Driven Checklist,” which will guide the Administration’s efforts to strengthen existing workforce programs and supplement the positive steps taken in WIOA:

  • Employer engagement/involvement for determining local or regional labor market needs;
  • Establish opportunities for work-based learning as a clear pathway to employment;
  • Leverage data more effectively to drive program accountability;
  • Measure and evaluate employment and earnings outcomes for program participants;
  • Promote pathway systems which provide opportunities for additional training or credentials;
  • Increase access for high-need populations through the promotion of additional support services;
  • Promote regional partnerships between workforce and education systems and other stakeholder groups.

Beginning on October 1, all eligible applicants for 25 different federal competitive grant programs across federal agencies will be required to incorporate each of these elements into their application. In total, these programs represent approximately $1.4 billion in annual funding for workforce development activities throughout the country. Additionally, the U.S. Departments of Labor and Education will begin to encourage states to incorporate this checklist into their unified state plans— a new requirement introduced under WIOA.

The report goes on to highlight a number of other Administration-led initiatives which have already been announced, such as the Registered Apprenticeship College Consortium (RACC), the Performance Pilot Partnerships for Disconnected Youth (P3), and the American Apprenticeship Grant among a handful of others. As part of the report’s release, the Department of Education also announced that it will launch the Career Pathways Exchange, “an online information dissemination service that will give all states and interested stakeholders access to resources and guidance to develop, expand, and strengthen their career pathways systems.” Read the full report here.

Support for Competency-Based Education Grows

In conjunction with the Vice President’s report, the Department of Education (ED) also announced a new round of its “experimental sites” (ex-sites) initiative, which aims to test and showcase innovative strategies and approaches to delivering postsecondary education. These experimental sites hope to demonstrate that it is possible to transition away from “seat time” in favor of demonstrated student competency— an approached widely known as competency-based education.

Since the early 1990s, ED has had the ability to waive certain statutory and regulatory requirements under the Higher Education Act (HEA). These restrictions determine if postsecondary institutions can receive funds from federal student aid programs authorized under Title IV of HEA. Through the ex-sites initiative, ED will waive certain statutory and regulatory requirements under the Higher Education Act (HEA) requirements which affect Title IV federal student aid funding to provide institutions greater flexibility when implementing competency-based programs. Learn more about this announcement from ED here and Department’s official notice with detailed application instructions can be found here.

Activity around competency-based programs is also happening in Congress. Following a voice vote from the House Education and Workforce Committee, H.R. 3136 – also known as the Advancing Competency-based Education Demonstration Act – went before the full House and passed unanimously. This bill is part of the House committee’s larger strategy of reauthorizing HEA through a series of smaller bills aimed at renewing the law. The legislation has similar objectives to ED’s ex-sites initiative by allowing up to 20 institutions to offer competency-based education programs without meeting existing federal aid requirements under Title IV HEA. Eleven amendments were proposed and adopted during the bill’s vote. Among them was one offered by Representative Jim Langevin (D-RI), encouraging the greater dissemination and collection of enrollment and employment information of students participating in programs supported by the legislation.

Congressional Appropriations Lose Steam

Both the House and the Senate Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 appropriations processes have stalled after months of negotiations. Congress looks set to pass a Continuing Resolution, a move that would temporarily extend current FY 2014 funding levels past the October 1 deadline when current federal funding is set to expire. Encouragingly, the Senate Appropriations Committee released the text of its intended FY 2015 Labor, Health & Human Services, and Education appropriations bill which included a $5.4 million increase for the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act’s (Perkins) basic state grant program.

Although the appropriations process has since stalled and this funding increase is unlikely to be realized in the upcoming fiscal year, the release of the subcommittee’s text is an encouraging demonstration of Congress’ commitment to the Career Technical Education (CTE) enterprise. It is also important to note that Senate appropriators rejected the Obama Administration’s proposal for a new competitive CTE “innovation fund”- a sign that Congress largely remains opposed to a shift from the current formula-funded structure in the Perkins Act to a competitive model.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Legislative Update: House Passes WIOA, Senators Introduce New Perkins Amendment

July 11th, 2014

CapitolWednesday evening, the House passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA),  bipartisan legislation that reauthorizes the Workforce Investment Act. As we shared previously, the Senate approved WIOA by a substantial margin of 95-3 in June, which then sent the bill over to the House for further consideration.

The House followed in much the same way, overwhelmingly supporting WIOA’s passage by a margin of 415-6. This enormous vote of confidence from both chambers of Congress now sends the legislation to President Obama, who is expected to sign the bill into law. NASDCTEc’s initial overview of the bill can be found here and a joint press release on Wednesday’s vote can be found here.

WIOA’s passage this week is the result of more than a decade of work from members of Congress, their staff and advocates alike to overhaul and modernize the nation’s workforce system. The legislation makes many improvements that will help ensure that workers and employers have the skills necessary to succeed in the 21st century economy. NASDCTEc applauds this historic legislative achievement and looks forward to additional Congressional bipartisanship in the coming weeks and months as Congress continues work on other major pieces of federal education and workforce legislation such as the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

Senators Introduce Perkins Legislation

Last week, Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) announced their intention to introduce a new Career Technical Education (CTE) bill that would make several positive modifications to Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins). Yesterday, these Senators officially introduced this legislation and took to the Senate floor to voice their continued support and commitment to the CTE enterprise. An overview and press release on the Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce Act of 2014 (ETWA) from both Senator Kaine and Portman’s offices can be found here and here.

ETWA would introduce a more rigorous definition for CTE programs of study (POS) — a framework for delivering high-quality CTE first introduced in the 2006 reauthorization of the Perkins Act. The newly proposed definition would require alignment to state-identified college and career ready standards, support the attainment of employability and technical skills, allow for multiple entry and exit points throughout a program’s secondary and postsecondary components and ultimately result in a recognized postsecondary credential or placement in an apprenticeship.

The legislation would also create an annual needs assessment for local Perkins recipients to better enable them to identify and meet the shifting needs of local CTE students and empower programs to more effectively respond to the evolving needs of the local, regional and state labor market. ETWA would also encourage the wider adoption of career academies among programs receiving Perkins funding.

NASDCTEc supports this legislation and looks forward to a comprehensive reauthorization of the Perkins Act where elements of this bill can be incorporated into the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee’s efforts to renew this vitally important law.

The full text of the bill can be found here and a joint letter of support from NASDCTEc and the Association for Career and Technical Education can be found here.

House Committee Moves on Competency-Based Education

Yesterday, the House Education and the Workforce Committee (HEW) passed by voice vote the Advancing Competency-Based Education Demonstration Project Act (H.R. 3136). This bipartisan legislation is part of series of bills the Committee hopes to move forward in an effort to reauthorize the Higher Education Act (HEA). As we shared previously, the HEW Committee announced a set of principles for HEA reauthorization that will guide their efforts as this process continues.

H.R. 3136 would authorize the creation of competency-based education demonstration projects through HEA and waive current statutory regulations that have acted as an impediment to a wider adoption of competency-based education models at the postsecondary level. Currently, for the purposes of federal financial aid provided under Title IV of HEA, student progress is predominantly measured and determined by credit hour rather than by other more direct methods of measuring student learning. This bill’s cosponsors hope that the legislation will reduce the amount of time it takes to work towards a degree while also reducing the financial burden placed on students seeking a postsecondary education.

NASDCTEc is supportive of competency based education approaches such as the one put forward in H.R. 3136, and looks forward to the wider utilization of these models in a comprehensive reauthorization of HEA. A factsheet on the bill can be found here and the full text here.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

Legislative Update: Senate Passes WIOA, Introduces Perkins Amendment and HEA Legislation

June 27th, 2014

CapitolOn Wednesday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly in support of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), a bicameral and bipartisan legislative compromise to reauthorize the Workforce Investment Act of 1998 (WIA). Due for reauthorization since 2003, WIA supports workforce development activities throughout the country and funds job training programs for displaced adults and youth. WIOA reauthorizes this critically important piece of workforce development legislation and the Senate’s strong vote in favor of the compromise legislation constitutes a significant milestone in the bill’s pathway towards becoming law.

NASDCTEc’s initial overview of WIOA can be found here. The legislation makes substantial changes to the nation’s workforce development system and would streamline existing employment and workforce-related education and training systems via unified planning and delivery, common measurements for program performance and more uniform data collection and usage among many other positive new elements contained in the bill.

A procedural agreement reached between both parties late last week significantly reduced the time for debate, and a “managed amendment” process was established to consider three separate amendments to the bill. The first of these, put forward by Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ), would have permitted Governors to restructure a local workforce board if a local area failed to meet its performance target after just one year. This amendment was ultimately voted down 33-63. As passed, WIOA would allow this type of restructuring to take place after three years of missing these targets.

A second amendment, introduced by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), would have withheld funding by 5 percent to the U.S. Department of Labor if it failed to submit certain evaluations by statutory deadlines in WIOA. The Senate rejected this amendment as well by a margin of 40-58 before proceeding on one put forward by WIOA’s original co-sponsors. This “manager’s amendment” was a package of minor technical modifications to the original text of the bill which did not alter the fundamental content of the legislation. This amendment was adopted, before the chamber began its final vote on the passage of WIOA.

Encouragingly, the Senate voted 95-3 in favor of WIOA, which has now been sent over to the House for consideration. The strong vote from the Senate will likely improve the bill’s prospects in the House. NASDCTEc expects this will occur sometime after the July 4th Congressional recess and as early as July 9th. While there is still a long pathway for WIOA to become law, the Senate’s overwhelming support for the legislation constitutes a significant step forward in that process. NASDCTEc is encouraged by these developments and is hopeful that WIOA will move swiftly through the House next month on its way to becoming law later this year.

Senator Warner Introduces Perkins Proposal

Earlier this week, Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced S. 2524 or the Pathways to Prosperity Act of 2014 (Pathways). The bill proposes a number of modifications to the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins) and seeks to more closely align Career Technical Education (CTE) programs of study to the needs of the local, regional and state economy. Pathways introduces new statutory definitions for CTE programs of study, credit transfer agreements, labor market information and industry-recognized credentials and then seeks to promote these elements through various portions of current Perkins law.

The bill also directs the National Research Center for CTE (NRCCTE) to provide technical assistance to states to help develop their capacity to collect information on industry-recognized credentials earned by students in an effort to promote their use and help students, parents and policymakers understand their value relative to the labor market. Pathways would also make a small amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) to ensure that rigorous, state-identified CTE standards are included alongside academic standards, a shift that is aimed at more closely aligning Perkins and CTE to ESEA and the activities supported under that legislation.

NASDCTEc applauds Senator Warner’s support and dedication to the CTE enterprise, and is hopeful that many elements of his Pathways bill will be included in the reauthorization of the Perkins Act. Read the full bill here.

HEA Proposals Begin to Emerge

On Wednesday, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, introduced a discussion draft for the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA). The proposal focuses on four main objectives:

  • Increasing college affordability
  • Assisting student loan borrowers
  • Strengthening accountability
  • Improving transparency

There are a number of positive elements contained in this draft proposal supporting the above goals; however, the Community College and Industry Partnerships Program (CCIPP) is of particular interest to the CTE community. This proposed competitive grant program seeks to support education and career training programs at community colleges and other types of eligible postsecondary institutions. It also seeks to build upon early college high school models and improve linkages between secondary, postsecondary and adult education programs including programs supported by the Perkins Act.

While this draft proposal is a long way from becoming law, these types of programs and other such provisions are encouraging developments for the CTE community as Congress begins to more fully consider the reauthorization of HEA. NASDCTEc will continuing to follow HEA’s progress in the Senate and is tentatively expecting further consideration of this proposal by the HELP committee in the late summer. The text of Chariman Harkin’s proposal can be found here and a factsheet can be found here.

In other HEA news, earlier in the week in the House, Chairman of the Education and the Workforce Committee John Kline (R-MN) and Higher Education and Workforce Training Subcommittee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) released a white paper outlining key principles that will guide the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in that chamber. The paper centers on four primary goals, many of which have been the subject of Congressional hearings on HEA over the past year:

  • Empowering students and families to make informed decisions
  • Simplifying and improving student aid
  • Promoting innovation, access, and completion
  • Ensuring strong accountability and a limited federal role

The white paper includes a number of policy proposals the committee would like to take up during the reauthorization process and the full paper can be found here.

Three legislative proposals were introduced as part of the release of this whitepaper in an effort to more fully realize the goals outlined above.  More information on these bills can be found here and additional legislation is expected to be introduced in this space in the coming weeks and months.

Steve Voytek, Government Relations Associate 

 

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