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Obama Administration Seeks to Remake Career-Tech Programs

The largest federal program for high schools—the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education program—would get a major makeover under a proposal that advocates expect the Obama administration to unveil Thursday. (UPDATE: It's official! More info here. )

The proposal would amount to the administration's vision for reauthorizing the Perkins law, which was funded at $1.14 billion in fiscal year 2012, or about twice as much as the School Improvement Grant program.

According to set of documents being circulated among advocates, the U.S. Department of Education wants the new law to:

  • Give states a bigger role in deciding what sort of career and technical education programs get funded, by empowering them to pinpoint "high-growth" jobs and industries on which to focus Perkins dollars.
  • Boost collaboration among districts and post-secondary institutions by making them share grants. Right now, districts and post-secondary institutions get separate funding. The administration would instead fund consortia of districts, post-secondary institutions, and their partners. Partners could include employers, labor organizations, and industry associations, among others.
  • Require a private-sector match for grants, which could be filled through actual dollars, or an in-kind donation (such as equipment, or training facilities). That would give the private sector some real skin in the career-tech game.
  • Make the funds competitive within states. Right now, Perkins money flows to states by a formula, then goes out to locals by formula. Under the proposal, states would get to pick and choose the programs they think would be most effective.
  • Develop a common set of indicators for participation and performance. Right now, each state creates its own definitions, and that makes it hard to objectively compare programs, the administration contends.

The Perkins program was last reauthorized in 2006, with big bipartisan support. That legislation sought to make career and tech programs more academically rigorous. More details here.

It'll be interesting to see if these proposals are able to draw support from both Democrats and Republicans, and gain traction on Capitol Hill, or if they don't move anywhere in a broke-down Congress paralyzed by gridlock.

UPDATE: Already, Senate Democrats overseeing education are cheering the plan. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate education committee, said in a statement, "I want to commend Secretary Duncan for bringing attention to the need for more alignment, collaboration, accountability, and innovation, as well as the need for equity."

And Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is very happy with administration's ideas too, although she has some issues with the funding changes.

"I strongly support the Administration's push to build on the successes of CTE programs across the country," Murray said in a statement. "I do have concerns with the funding mechanisms being proposed, but I am hopeful that these concerns will be addressed as Congress considers the reauthorization."

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