The Perkins Act Has Finally Been Reauthorized. Here’s What’s In It and Why It Matters to MN

August 1, 2018 • Marcus Penny

On July 31, President Trump signed the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The signing follows on the heels of bipartisan support from both chambers of Congress, where the bill advanced on voice votes.

The $1.2 billion Perkins Act provides funding for Career Technical Education (CTE) programs and job training for students, and charges states with setting and making progress on their CTE goals.

This post will cover the history of the legislation, what’s new in the 2018 reauthorization, and the CTE landscape in Minnesota.

Perkins: A Legislative History

Originally passed as the Vocational Education Act of 1963, renamed the Carl D. Perkins Act in 1984, it was enacted to increase learner access to high-quality CTE programs of study, especially to those students who had been underserved in the past or who had substantial education needs. The Perkins Act provides federal funds to states so they can facilitate connections between secondary and postsecondary education and employers—aligning learning programs to best serve the needs of the local economy.

Reauthorized last in 2006, congressional budget authorizations kept the legislation alive since its expiration in 2012. The House passed reauthorization bills in 2016 and 2017, but progress stalled out as the Senate debated the Secretary of Education’s CTE oversight role.

With the president’s signature, the new law is set to take effect July 1, 2019.

What’s New This Time Around?

There are several significant changes in the reauthorized legislation. House co-sponsor, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorti (D-IL), offered this summary of the Perkins Act:

  1. It increases funding so that more students can participate.
  2. It shifts control from Washington to local authorities.
  3. It keeps businesses at the table to help validate the skills that are taught.

Krishnamoorti concluded, “At the end of the day we want these students and people in career transition to basically end up in what I call the greatest anti-poverty program devised by human beings: a job.”

In the reauthorized version, states are granted greater authority to set their own CTE goals, eliminating a previous negotiation process with the Secretary of Education. With this change, states are required to make “meaningful progress” toward meeting said goals. Meaningful progress is measured against performance targets, which take into account graduation rates, percentage of students entering postsecondary or advanced training programs over a given time, and industry credential attainment.

Notably, the bill allows “the [education] secretary to reduce grant funding to states failing to meet 90 percent of performance targets for two consecutive years.” CTE advocates like Kim Green, executive director of the nonprofit Advance CTE, worry this may discourage states from setting ambitious targets for CTE students, absent clarification that the law did not intend for states to set lower, more attainable targets.

CTE advocates also warn of the broad guidelines for how state and local CTE dollars can be spent, calling for a greater focus on “activities that are most closely related to CTE program quality and student achievement.”

Despite some concerns overall, advocates celebrate the renewed focus on CTE. In a joint press release, Advance CTE and the Association for Career & Technical Education said, “The resources provided through this law will assist states and local public education providers in their efforts to ensure both secondary and postsecondary learners have the skills and experiences that will provide a pathway to the middle class, while also meeting the needs of large and small employers across the nation.”

CTE Landscape in Minnesota

The Perkins Act requires CTE programs to meet state and local needs. In Minnesota, this responsibility falls to the Minnesota State (Colleges and Universities) Board of Trustees, the sole “agency authorized to receive and disburse the Carl D. Perkins federal funds and to supervise the administration of the state [CTE] program … jointly with the Minnesota Department of Education.”

Since fiscal year 2009, Perkins funds have been distributed by a consortia comprised of at least one secondary district and at least one postsecondary institution. Last year, Minnesota received $16,684,637 in Perkins funds, with 42 percent distributed to secondary schools and 58 percent distributed to postsecondary institutions.

Even with this investment, Minnesota faces a skilled worker shortage with baby boomers retiring and a 17 year-low unemployment. By spring of this year, Minnesota had only added a third the number of jobs as spring 2017. In a Star Tribune piece, one Minneapolis-based tech CEO, Mynul Khan, told how his firm had plenty of jobs to fill, but no one to fill them. “We are growing 30 to 40 percent year-over-year … And we have a growth plan. We just need more talent.”

Schools know the business community needs skilled workers, which underscores the importance of Perkins. “This critical legislation and commitment to continued workforce development by Congress will evolve our economy and provide experiences for students across Minnesota and the nation through innovative pathways into high-wave, in-demand careers well into the future,” said Troy Haugen, Career & Technical Education Coordinator at Lakes Country Service Cooperative, one of 26 CTE consortia in the state.

While reauthorization is good news for Minnesota’s students and workforce, there are other factors that impact CTE education in Minnesota. For instance, we’re among the two-thirds of states with a shortage of CTE teachers.

As legislators look for ways to address the shortage, there’s another hiccup: teacher salaries can’t compete with technical fields.

A 2017 report from MDE on teacher supply and demand cited the need for financial incentives to attract teachers to shortage areas like CTE. This is all the more true when jobs in technical fields can offer highly competitive compensation. Compounding the problem for rural schools, Greater Minnesota is already struggling to attract teachers.

Education Evolving will continue to follow and report on Minnesota’s CTE programs as they are impacted by the new legislation.

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