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U.S. House Kicks Off Renewal of Career and Technical Education Legislation

Career and Technical Education legislation has always been bipartisan—and lawmakers in the House are hoping that an upcoming reauthorization can continue the tradition.

CTE is the largest federal program for high schools, funded at about $1.13 billion. And its focus—career education—fits in with House leaders' current embrace of workforce/job training issues. Still, it's kind of an obscure step-child to the much more glitzy Higher Education Act and Elementary and Secondary Education Act. (Maybe CTE's under-the-radar nature will help with bipartisanship?)

CTE reauthorization is on the Senate education committee's priority list. And the House education subcommittee that deals with K-12 issues held its very first hearing on legislation today. Opening remarks from the panel's chairman, Rep. Todd Rokita, offered some hints about what's to come:

•In an pretty typical GOP talking point, Rokita, an Indiana Republican, wants to ensure that CTE programs don't have to deal with "duplicative" federal reporting requirements. "We cannot allow redundant federal mandates to make it harder for states to offer the career training opportunities our young people need," he said.

•Congress needs to make sure CTE programs actually prepare students for the workforce and post-secondary education. That could mean a stronger emphasis on dual enrollment options with post-secondary education. "CTE coursework should provide students with opportunities to obtain relevant certificates, credits, and hands-on experience that will allow them to more seamlessly integrate into the workforce or get ahead in their quest to earn a postsecondary degree," Rokita said.

•Lawmakers should help states ensure that CTE teachers are effective.

Meanwhile, Rep. Raul Grijavla, D-Ariz., focused on the impact sequestration (those across-the-board cuts in federal spending) has had on CTE programs in his state. "We shouldn't cut funding for programs that mean the difference between getting ahead and falling behind for workers all over the country," he said.

For now, however, leaders on the House education committee are in the process of educating their members on exactly what the big issues in CTE reauthorization even are—the questions and testimony at the very first hearing on the renewal were very much at the 10,000 foot level. There could be a bill coming out of the House Education committee this fall, advocates say.

The Obama administration has already weighed in on CTE reauthorization—releasing its blueprint for renewal last year. The administration, which never met a competitive grant program it didn't like, wants to make CTE dollars, which currently flow by formula, competitive within states.

That idea went over like a lead balloon with the Association for Career and Technical Education, as well as with Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a key voice in the Senate on education issues. (Murray largely liked the administration's CTE blueprint, just not the competitive funding proposal.) More here.

And the administration wants to change the way the grants are structured. Right now, districts and post-secondary institutions get separate funding. The Obama folks instead would fund consortia of districts, post-secondary institutions, and their partners. Partners could include employers, labor organizations, and industry associations, among others. That is more likely to gain traction.

It's hard to say what the House lawmakers make of the administration's proposals—there was virtually no discussion of the blueprint at the hearing.

Back in 2006—the last time CTE was reauthorized—a major flashpoint was whether "Tech Prep" (a part of the CTE program supports partnerships in workforce training between high schools and colleges) should remain a separate entity, or be folded into the larger CTE program. Ultimately, lawmakers came down on the side of keeping the program in place, but beefing up some of the academic requirements.

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