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Digging Deeper Into That New, Bipartisan Career and Tech. Ed. Bill in Congress

Could we see not one, but two reauthorizations of major federal education laws inside of one year?

If President Barack Obama gives his thumbs-up to a bipartisan bill to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act before mid-December, we'll have two such bill signings inside of 365 days—remember, Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act on Dec. 10, 2015. But what's in the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act

Late last month, I touched on some of the general themes and intentions of the legislation, which was introduced by Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Pa. But I rang up a couple of observers to see what else in the bill caught their attention, in advance of a House education committee markup on the legislation scheduled for Thursday.

New Definition: Previous non-regulatory guidance for Perkins has included a definition for a student who is a CTE "concentrator." For K-12 purposes, the legislation defines a concentrator as a secondary student who has either "completed three or more career and technical education courses, or completed at least two courses in single career and technical education program or program of study."

• Red-Tape Reduction: One of the most notable changes in the reauthorization bill is that it aims to reduce the bureaucratic burden on schools, said Alisha Hyslop, the director of public policy at the Association for Career and Technical Education, which supports the legislation. There would be a needs assessment judging which programs would be most helpful before any sort of application for federal CTE funds, she noted.

"It puts more of a focus on this needs assessment and less of a focus on a long application," Hyslop told me. "It much more closely links the planning and the paperwork that locals are doing and how they're spending their funds."

 Program Performance: The bill provides states greater discretion in setting their performance targets for CTE programs. Specifically, Michele McLaughlin, the president of the Knowledge Alliance, pointed out to me that the legislation would remove the secretary of education's involvement in setting "adjusted levels of performance" (or performance levels on core indicators of programs' success).

However, more broadly, the secretary could reject state CTE plans if they're not up to snuff. 

• More State Discretion: The legislation would increase the share of CTE funds states could withhold, from 10 to 15 percent. They could provide the larger set-aside based on their own formula or through their own competitive grants, for example. 

"That gives states more flexibility to target resources where they're most needed, and to do some more creative things," Hyslop said.

However, there are some requirements that go along with the set-aside. The reserve funds would have to be used to identify and promote "promising and proven" CTE programs, and to promote programs that match state-identified occupations or careers that are in demand. 

And it's important to remember, McLaughlin said, that, "Most of the funding still goes out by formula [under the bill]. In that respect, it hasn't changed a lot."

• Scaling Up Innovation: There's a grant program through which the secretary can award grants to "innovative strategies and activities to improve career and technical education and align workforce skills with labor market needs," the bill states.

Agencies that can win such grants include districts, postsecondary institutions, and the Bureau of Indian Education. 

So what are the odds that this bill gets signed into law? The fact that it has bipartisan support is a good sign, McLaughlin said, although there's a pretty tight window between now and the next congressional recess. The last listed session day is July 15, after which Congress isn't slated to reconvene until Sept. 6. And it's still unclear, she added, how the Senate will handle reauthorization.


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