The Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget and appropriations process began in earnest with the release of theAdministration’s budget request in February. The Administration requested an additional $200 million for Perkins; however, the additional funds were allocated to the proposed American Technical Training Fund, which was designed to providing competitive grants to support the development and operation of innovative job training programs in high-demand fields. For the existing formula funded Perkins Basic State Grant program, the request was for level funding at $1.118 billion, approximately $5.4 million below the pre-sequestration level, with a small increase for CTE National Programs.
Over the summer, both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved funding bills that also proposed level funding for the Perkins Basic State Grant, but would include a cut to CTE National Programs and the research and technical assistance projects funded through that line item. Congress, however, was unable to complete its appropriations work by the end of the fiscal year in September, necessitating several stop-gap continuing resolutions that lasted through December. In the meantime, both chambers were able to agree on a two-year budget framework that provides a slight increase in the overall discretionary funding caps for domestic programs. Thanks to that budget agreement, Congress was able to pass an omnibus appropriations bill to fund the government for the remainder of FY 2016 that level funds both the Perkins Basic State Grant and CTE National Programs. While federal funding for CTE and other important education programs will be a challenge in the year ahead, ACTE will continue to push for a greater federal investment in Perkins!
When the 114th Congress convened a year ago, House Education and the Workforce Committee Chairman Kline (R-MN) and the new Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee Chairman Alexander (R-TN) both singled out the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the law governing federal K-12 education policy, among the top legislative priorities for their committees.
Sen. Alexander pledged to work closely with Sen. Murray (D-WA), the HELP committee’s ranking Democrat, in hopes of producing a bipartisan ESEA bill. To promote CTE priorities in the bill, Sens. Kaine (D-VA), Baldwin (D-WI) and Portman (R-OH), co-chairs of the Senate CTE Caucus, introduced the Career Ready Act (S. 478). This bill amended ESEA to help ensure students are college- and career-ready by strengthening school counseling programs and encouraging states to report on career readiness indicators. In addition, Reps. Langevin (D-RI) and Thompson (R-PA), co-chairs of the House CTE Caucus, supported the inclusion of greater work-based learning and counseling as part of the House’s efforts to reauthorize ESEA.
In July, the Senate approved its comprehensive, bipartisan reauthorization bill, the Every Child Achieves Act (S. 1177), with the House voting to advance its own version, the Student Success Act (H.R. 5), as well. After months of negotiations, in November, a conference committee comprised of representatives from both chambers met to resolve the differences between the two versions. The compromise bill, called the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), was then given final approval by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in December. ESSA includes some key CTE provisions to promote activities that integrate academic and CTE content in the classroom—including specialized professional development opportunities, expanded college and career guidance programs, improved availability of CTE student performance information, and recognition of CTE as a core component of a well-rounded education. Because of its strong focus on supporting key elements of high-quality CTE, ACTE was one of many national organizations to endorse ESSA. We will continue to provide updates on the implementation of the new law and its impact on CTE throughout 2016.
Perkins reauthorization activity waned early in 2015, but picked up speed during the last few months of the year. In late October, the House Education and the Workforce’s Subcommittee on Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education relaunched its consideration of Perkins with a hearing entitled “Improving Career and Technical Education to Help Students Succeed in the Workforce." ACTE Past-President Doug Major, Superintendent/CEO at Meridian Technology Center in Stillwater, Oklahoma, as well as Deneece Huftalin, President of ACTE EIM member Salt Lake Community College in Salt Lake City, Utah, were among those sharing testimony, along with ACTE partner Tim Johnson from the National Center for Construction Education and Research. The hearing focused heavily on the theme of business engagement, as well as the importance of career exploration and meaningful, rigorous CTE options for students.
Following the announcement of the House hearing, the Senate also got into the Perkins action by launching its own early reauthorization efforts. Sens. Enzi (R-WY) and Casey (D-PA) were designated as the leaders of the HELP Committee’s reauthorization work. While still in the early stages of the process, these Senators, along with other committee members, agreed on a set of bipartisan principles for reauthorization upon which to base their work.
Education and workforce development groups were asked to submit specific recommendations for Perkins reauthorization around these principles, and listening sessions were held with groups in November. ACTE submitted legislative language developed jointly with the National Association of State Directors of CTE Consortium in response to our board-approved Perkins priorities, and participated in these sessions.
We also continued to work this year to add detail to our Perkins recommendations, as well as to educate Members of Congress and other national organizations about the Perkins law and our suggestions for strengthening it through reauthorization through special events and briefings. Our key priorities remain focused on CTE program quality, streamlining administrative requirements and maintaining the integrity of the formula grant. Programs of study and other mechanisms to strengthen secondary-postsecondary linkages have been a major part of our focus on program-quality, and form the foundation of our recommendations. Alignment of our Perkins positions with other federal policy, particularly WIOA and HEA, has been a major focus this year as well. For example, we held a briefing for other national groups on potential areas of coordination between Perkins and WIOA. We also continue to reinforce relationships, particularly with the business community, which will position us well for the reauthorization process in Congress as it heats up in 2016.
Higher Education Reauthorization
The Higher Education Act (HEA) remained a major issue on Capitol Hill and in public conversations this year. Senate HELP Committee Chairman Alexander and Ranking Member Murray turned their attentions to HEA as the committee neared completion of its work on the ESEA reauthorization in early summer, including holding several hearings on HEA-related topics including accreditation and postsecondary education affordability and officially soliciting feedback on key ideas outlined in white papers released by the committee. The House Education and the Workforce Committee also held regular hearings on HEA and postsecondary education issues, and its leadership expressed that HEA remains a priority.
Responding to calls for greater affordability in postsecondary education, several pieces of legislation were introduced this year to expand access to financial aid for CTE students. Sens. Kaine and Ayotte (R-NH)sponsored the Jumpstart Our Businesses by Supporting Students (JOBS) Act (S. 1900), which would expand Pell grant eligibility to students enrolled in short-term training programs. The bill was also introduced in the House (H.R. 3985) by Reps. Richmond (D-LA) and Lawrence (D-MI). The Go to High School, Go to College Act (S. 1106 and H.R. 2065) was introduced by Sens. Warner (D-VA) and Portman and Reps. Fudge (D-OH), Donovan (R-NY), Gibson (R-NY), Katko (R-NY), King (R-NY), Payne (D-NJ), Rangel (D-NY) and Tonko (D-NY) to amend HEA to create a program awarding Early College Federal Pell Grants to students pursuing postsecondary coursework through early college high schools.
Reps. Duckworth (D-IL), Costello (R-PA), Langevin, Thompson, Hastings (D-FL) and Takano (D-CA) alsosponsored the CTE Opportunity Act (H.R. 3964), which would increase access to federal financial aid under HEA for students pursuing short-term postsecondary CTE programs that lead to industry-recognized credentials. A companion bill (S. 2064) was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Baldwin and Casey.
Another topic addressed through legislation this year in both chambers is that of CTE teacher shortages. Sens. Kaine, Portman Baldwin and Capito (R-WV) reintroduced the Creating Quality Technical Educators Act (S. 2174), which would address these challenges by helping partnerships of local educational agencies (LEAs) and postsecondary teacher preparation programs to recruit and train future CTE educators using HEA’s Teacher Quality Partnership Grants. The Technical Education and Career Help (TEACH) Act (H.R. 4263), a companion bill, was introduced in the House by Reps. Mooney (R-WV), Clark (D-MA), Blum (R-IA), Aguilar (D-CA), MacArthur (R-NJ), Bera (D-CA), Poliquin (R-ME) and Langevin.
Following enactment of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) in 2014, focus turned to implementation as state and local areas began to develop plans for meeting the requirements of the new law.
In April, the implementation of the Act took a big step forward when the Obama Administration unveiled the long-awaited draft federal regulations. These Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRMs) included thousands of pages of implementation guidelines for WIOA programs as proposed by the Departments of Labor and Education. Topics covered by the NPRMs included unified and combined state plans, performance accountability, and the one-stop system, as well as a variety of administrative activities and other program changes.
ACTE carefully reviewed the draft regulations and submitted comments to recommend more clarification on key CTE issues, such as how postsecondary institutions must contribute to the one-stop system infrastructure and how data systems and reporting will be aligned. In addition to comments on the proposed rules, we have weighed in on several other pieces of guidance throughout the year on these and other relevant topics. Over the summer, we also presented a joint webinar with the National Skills Coalition and National Association of State Directors of CTE Consortium on WIOA and CTE alignment, and released a corresponding fact sheet.
WIOA state plans are due in March, and the workforce community still awaits final regulations and state plan guidance. We expect work on implementation to continue to intensify in 2016.
Other CTE Legislation
In addition to the signature pieces of education and workforce development legislation, ACTE advocated for the development and advancement of several other bills during 2015.
The Building Understanding, Investment, Learning, and Direction (BUILD) CTE Act was introduced by Sen. Merkley (D-OR) and Rep. Schrader (D-OR) (S. 1166 and H.R. 2186), to establish a pilot program to support CTE exploration programs for middle and high school students.
The Grants for Renewable Energy Education for the Nation (GREEN) Act (H.R. 2763) was introduced in June and sponsored by Rep. McNerney (D-CA). It would authorize the Secretary of Education to award grants to partnerships of LEAs, postsecondary institutions and renewable energy business partners to develop programs of study based in green industries.
Sen. Kaine introduced the Middle School Technical Education Partnerships (STEP) Act (S. 1609) to support and expand career exploration opportunities for middle school students. The proposed legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. Boxer (D-CA), Casey, Whitehouse (D-RI), Warner and Ayotte, was intended to provide funding to partnerships of LEAs, institutions of higher education and relevant business representatives to foster middle school career exploration programs linked to CTE programs of study offered at the high school or postsecondary level. A companion bill (H.R. 3346) was introduced in the House by Rep. Graham (D-FL) in November.
In March, Sens. Baldwin, Kaine, Whitehouse (D-RI) and Wyden (D-OR) introduced the Next Generation High Schools Act (S. 696), a bill that would create competitive grants to partnerships among LEAs or charter schools, postsecondary institutions and community based partners to implement high school turnaround strategies that incorporate CTE programs.
In another area that ACTE has been following closely, the House Education and the Workforce Committee and the Senate Agriculture Committee began consideration of child nutrition reauthorization, though neither committee was able to produce a bill in 2015. ACTE provided comments to both committees on the impact that regulations governing the sale of competitive foods in schools are having on CTE school-based enterprises and urged both committees to address the issue through reauthorization.
In addition to public briefings and events, both caucuses undertook activities to support CTE in other ways. Sens. Baldwin and Portman both wrote op/ed pieces on the importance of CTE in advanced manufacturing, which were published in the Wasau Daily Herald and Piqua Daily Call, respectively. Both caucuses participated in activities for CTE Month, including floor speeches from Reps. Thompson and Langevin, as well as a successful Senate resolution (Senate Resolution 94), introduced by Sen. Kaine, to formally recognize the importance of CTE. Furthermore, Thompson and Langevin circulated a letter to their colleagues in the House encouraging them to support federal funding for CTE in the Fiscal Year 2016 appropriations bill.
The Obama Administration remained active on CTE issues this year as well, both in policymaking and raising awareness of CTE’s role in every student’s education. In response to a letter sent by the Senate CTE Caucus in 2014, President Obama signed into effect Executive Order 11155, which expanded the Presidential Scholars Program to recognize outstanding student achievement in CTE. This marked a major achievement for ACTE in building awareness of and appreciation for CTE among policymakers, as well as calling attention to excellence among CTE students.
Shortly thereafter, the White House and First Lady Michelle Obama hosted an event titled “Celebrating Innovations in Career and Technical Education,” which recognized leadership and achievement among CTE students and educators from across the country. ACTE assisted in planning and executing the event, which drew attention to the importance of CTE in preparing students for postsecondary education at two- and four-year institutions as well as in pursuit of industry recognized credentials.
The Obama Administration and U.S. Department of Education (ED) engaged in a number of activities related to higher education this year that impacted CTE. The Administration took action to streamline the financial aid application process, and shifted the application timeline and required application information to better mesh with college application deadlines.
ED took steps around postsecondary education quality issues, including the launch of the College Scorecard website. It also announced it would take a series of actions on the accreditation system that assesses program quality at postsecondary institutions, including simplifying its own online accreditation resources.
The department also marked a major leadership change with implications for the year ahead. After serving as the U.S. Secretary of Education since 2009, Arne Duncan announced that he would step down in December. John King Jr., a senior ED official and former New York State education commissioner, assumed Duncan’s duties as the acting Secretary of Education for the final year of the Obama Administration.
With the presidential and congressional election in full swing, the second half of the 114th Congress will be dominated by campaign politics. Despite the election-year partisanship, there are some outstanding education policy issues that may make an appearance in 2016.
The implementation of the new ESSA law will be an important issue in K-12 education. The U.S. Department of Education has already put out a formal request for information for stakeholder input and recommendations on implementation of ESSA’s Title I regulations and issued a letter notifying states of several initial steps regarding ESSA transition. Expect a flurry of regulations and guidance on ESSA, including its CTE provisions, from the feds in the coming year.
As for education legislation, the reauthorization of the HEA will be a continued priority in the House and Senate. Simplifying student financial aid programs and reducing the cost of higher education will be key themes in forthcoming reauthorization bills. Congressional Republicans will continue to oppose the department’s gainful employment regulations and other higher education regulations, and will likely use HEA reauthorization to block those efforts. The Senate, in particular, may follow a similar path on HEA as it did with ESSA—crafting a bipartisan proposal to gain support from both sides of the aisle.
It is unclear when Congress may begin to seriously consider the reauthorization of the Perkins Act. Both chambers have been working toward Perkins reauthorization over the past year, but other issues may still take priority in 2016. The passage of ESSA and WIOA does increase the possibility of reauthorization legislation this year, particularly if progress stalls (or moves very quickly) on HEA.
With the passage of the two-year budget deal and the FY 2016 omnibus appropriations bill, Congress will be able to focus its attention on funding for FY 2017 in the coming months, with hopes of more regular order in the budget and appropriations process. The new budget cycle will again begin with the release of the President Obama’s FY 2017 budget request in February, which will be the last budget of his Administration. The House and Senate will unveil their own funding proposals throughout the spring and summer. Despite a slight increase in discretionary spending levels, the Republican majorities in both chambers will likely push for greater fiscal austerity. The CTE community will continue to advocate for a greater investment in Perkins!
Your ACTE membership and dues directly impact our ability to serve as your advocate for CTE programs on Capitol Hill, and our efforts would not be possible without your support. Learn more about ACTE’s policy activities and the latest news on ACTE’s CTE Policy Watch blog. If you have any questions, please contact the ACTE Public Policy Department.