Just this month, the Department of Education updated a key funding program for career and technical education (CTE) — Perkins V. But while Perkins offers new opportunities for innovation and student success, educators should also consider the value of launching CTE without Perkins’ support.
Thirteen-year-old Layla is one of 11 million students studying science, technology, healthcare, manufacturing, and more through CTE programs.
“If all goes as planned,” Layla’s father Gregory Seaton wrote, “Layla will graduate from high school with a certification as a laboratory technician and some college credit from dual-enrollment courses as well as her high school diploma. When she graduates, Layla will immediately be able to earn about $40,000 a year as a lab technician.”
The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, or Perkins V, provides $1.3 billion to support CTE programs like Layla’s. The program also takes three key steps to fuel CTE innovation and position CTE to fill jobs:
1. Expands Flexibility in CTE Spending
For years, CTE innovation took a back seat to Department of Education spending priorities. Under Perkins IV for example, grant recipients had to fund nine federally-approved projects. And remaining funds had to go to one or more of 17 federally-approved CTE projects, leaving little room for alternative thinking.
Perkins V offers CTE innovators more flexibility. The program requires that grantees fund only 5 federally-approved projects and allows grantees to invest remaining funds in one or more of 25 possible CTE options, including an option for “other activities that improve career and technical education programs”— a near catch-all that applicants can use to direct funding to a greater breadth of CTE projects.
By cutting back on spending requirements and expanding funding opportunities, Perkins V gives grantees greater freedom to shape innovative programs that provide the most opportunity for students.
2. Calls for Industry Involvement
One challenge CTE programs face is a severe misalignment with industry needs. A 2019 study from the Foundation for Excellence in Education and Burning Glass Technologies, for example, found that half of the states it studied are not collecting the information they need to know regarding whether or not their CTE programs are aligned with market demands. Worse yet, no state was highly aligned in terms of high school credentials earned and the demand for those credentials in the job market.
Perkins V addresses these challenges by requiring that applicants assess whether CTE programs meet labor market demands, consult with business and industry representatives, and spend grant funds to meet the needs identified in the assessment.
3. Reduces Government Oversight
Previous Perkins laws have also required significant federal oversight of in-state CTE development. Perkins IV, for example, mandates that states negotiate with the Department of Education to set CTE performance standards.
According to a study by RTI International, a significant minority (15-23 states depending on the year and education level), reported having somewhat to very difficult negotiation experiences.
“It’s not really clear what methodology the Department of Education is [using to select] a target,” one CTE administrator shared, “If it was more transparent [and] . . . we knew what their goal was, we. . . could figure out what to do….”
Other administrators said the negotiation process left them little room to include the measures of success that were important to them.
“There are only two colleges in the state that negotiated. . .” one negotiator said, “we got the pretty clear message that there wasn’t much room [for negotiation].”
Perkins V takes first steps toward reducing these frustrations by limiting federal involvement. Although Perkins V still requires that the Department of Education approve CTE performance standards, it allows states to develop those standards themselves, thus empowering an entity closer to the students and programs to establish measures of success that make sense for them.
While grantees benefit from these updates to the Perkins program, they need not depend on Perkins support to make CTE possible. Despite its improvements, Perkins still limits CTE design and function and funnels resources to federal priorities over what may be best for local families.
Meanwhile, study after study suggests that CTE improves high school graduation rates, and better equips students, and especially minority students, to earn post-secondary credentials, jobs, and high wages.
“As an African American, first-generation college graduate,” Seaton wrote, “I have slowly come to recognize the competitive advantage that a lab tech CTE program will provide my daughter. I had my reservations, based on the history of African Americans and vocational education, but could not argue with the outcomes or options.”
If schools are serious about investing in the future of their students, they should consider Seaton’s example and CTE’s return on investment and consider budgeting for CTE themselves.
Catalyst articles by Kristiana Bolzman