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Acting Ed. Secretary Pushes Perkins Act Renewal, Unveils New Tech Challenge

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Acting Education Secretary John B. King Jr. is urging Congress to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, even though prospects for its revision and approval appear dim.

Last renewed in 2006, the Perkins Act funnels more than $1 billion a year into career and technical education in middle school, high school, and college. Lawmakers started the process of reviewing and reworking it several years ago, and wanted to focus in particular on building more consistency into the quality of CTE programs. But those efforts have largely stalled.

Echoing remarks he made Monday to a gathering of mayors, King plans to use an appearance in Baltimore Wednesday to draw attention to the need for Perkins Act reauthorization. His voice joins those of career-tech-ed advocates pushing Congress this week for more funding for the law.

"It's time for Congress to reauthorize the Perkins Act so that every student, in every community has access to rigorous, relevant, and results-driven CTE programs," King planned to say, according to remarks prepared for delivery. 

The best CTE programs build students' creativity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and help them prepare for additional education and good jobs after high school, the prepared speech said. 

"Today's CTE is about the future you can't prepare for with just a textbook," the prepared remarks said. "It's about learning how to build your own business, from an idea to a prototype and beyond. It's about creating new tools to solve everyday problems. It's about applying practical skills to tackle major challenges, like global warming or public health crises. One thing is clear—it's not your grandfather's 'shop class.' "

President Barack Obama's administration has been cheerleading for innovation among young people, and the creation of "makerspaces" to support it. The White House hosted a CTE innovation fair last fall, and will soon name a group of "CTE Presidential Scholars" who exemplify ambitious goals in career and technical education. It launched a national "Week of Making" last June, and King planned to announce Wednesday that it has chosen the week of June 17 for another.

Supporting Better Career Tech Ed

The administration has also been pushing to build incentives into the Perkins Act for innovative, high-quality CTE programs, and wants the law to better define the courses that should make up a good CTE program, make sure that career pathways reflect the needs of the labor market, and describe how mastery of CTE content should be measured.

Congress isn't in love with all the Obama administration's ideas for a reauthorized Perkins Act, though, such as distributing some of the funding through competitions, instead of doling it out through a standard formula. CTE advocates are also concerned that his approach to funding CTE would make too little formula funding available, squeezing program supply as demand rises. Between those reservations and the presidential election, which complicates progress on many things in Washington, few are optimistic that the Perkins Act will be reauthorized soon.

In Baltimore, King also plans to announce a new competition, sponsored by the Education Department, to create space for high-quality CTE programs. Called the "Career Technical Education Makeover Challenge," it will distribute a total of $200,000 to as many as 10 applicants who submit proposals to convert space in their high school building into places equipped to allow students to design and build things.

King also planned to use his appearance in Charm City to team up with Baltimore City schools CEO Gregory Thornton to help the city in its bid to open a P-TECH school. The Pathways in Technology Early College High School is a model started in New York City with a partnership that includes the city's high schools, colleges, and the tech giant IBM.

It blends rigorous high school and college study with preparation for high-tech careers and real-world work, allowing students to graduate with high school diplomas and associate degrees. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has been working with state lawmakers to gain approval for a P-TECH school in Baltimore, and King wants to showcase the model as the kind of CTE program that could benefit more students through a reauthorized Perkins Act.

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