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The Perkins Act, a major piece of federal legislation that provides more than $1.1 billion in funding annually for America’s career and technical education programs, is up for re-authorization in Congress. To pin down the status of this important measure, we asked Thomas Phillips, a congressional affairs specialist for Battelle, about what’s next for the act:

Q: What are the main provisions of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, and when does it run out?

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Thomas Phillips, congressional affairs specialist at Battelle, provides background about The Perkins Act.

A: The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006 (Perkins IV) was the most recent re-authorization of the original Perkins Act (first authorized in 1984) whose original goal was increasing the quality of technical education in the United States.

As one of its main provisions, Perkins IV focused not only on technical achievement, but also on high academic standards. The goal of the re-authorization in 2006 was aligning secondary and post-secondary education outcomes and improving accountability.

The major new provision at the time was the inclusion of “programs of study” as necessary parts of the state plan. These programs of study were meant to link academic content with technical skill. Originally due for re-authorization at the end of 2012, Perkins IV was given a one-year extension to the end of fiscal year 2013. However, despite that extension, it has not been officially reauthorized, and although Congress continues to fund the grant program, it does so below pre-sequestration funding levels, leaving many states at or below their funding levels from 1998.

Q: Why should educators — and, in general, taxpayers — care about this legislation? What positive, or negative, changes in education has it brought about?

A: At its core, Perkins is concerned with expanding educational opportunity while allowing students to utilize alternative pathways to post-secondary education or a career. Educators and taxpayers alike benefit from programs that are designed to give students the necessary skills to productively enter the workforce, while affording them the opportunity to gain further education.

To this point, the Perkins grant program has been the federal government’s largest investment in high schools and post-secondary institutions offering career and technical education — an investment that continues to play a critical role in closing the skills gap.

Q: Perkins was due for re-authorization more than three years ago. Why is it coming up now?

A: Since the expiration of Perkins IV, there has been a lot of work happening in Congress on education issues, but there has also been a lot of gridlock. For instance, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which was signed into law this year, was written as the new — albeit late — re-authorization of No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which expired in 2007.

That said, this new Perkins re-authorization is aligned with the goals of ESSA, and to answer your question, I think that before lawmakers moved forward with Perkins, they wanted to establish a more state-focused educational framework than the one they had with NCLB. In short, they wanted to tackle one problem at a time.

Q: What, if any, are the important proposed revisions in the Perkins re-authorization?

engineer-405723_1920A: The current re-authorization of Perkins is House Resolution (H.R.) 5587, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. A bipartisan bill, it is a proposal that modifies the structure of Perkins, allowing it to serve its original purpose while aligning it with ESSA and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). It accomplishes this by sharing terminology, performance indicators and reporting requirements with both.

Additionally, H.R. 5587 advances the concepts of aligning career and technical education with the needs of the labor market (WIOA) and increased flexibility for states and localities (ESSA).  Finally, it is a six-year authorization, beginning with $1.133 billion in fiscal year 2017 and gradually increasing to $1.213 billion in fiscal year 2022.

(These are authorization levels; annual funding legislation must be passed for such funding to be appropriated.)

In terms of major changes, H.R. 5587 eliminates the Title II program of Perkins IV known as “Tech Prep”; however, Title II hasn’t been funded since 2010, before Perkins IV expired.

Q: Where does Perkins stand in terms of re-authorization? What’s next in the process?

A: In terms of the process, many variables exist, but here’s what we know:

  • On July 7, the House Education and Workforce Committee voted 37-0 to approve H.R. 5587. With this action, the committee sent the legislation to the House floor for a vote, which is not yet scheduled. That said, unanimous passage of any legislation is rare, and the House committee vote is a promising indicator for the bill when it does make it to the floor.
  • The Senate committee has not yet released its draft; currently, Senate staff is working on trading versions. However, with the successful committee passage of the House version earlier in the summer, action in both the Senate and House is expected after members return from recess.
  • The major complicating factor is the limited amount of time that Congress will be in session before taking a break in October — and how much of that limited time will be dedicated to either completing a legitimate budget (farfetched) or passing yet another budget Continuing Resolution (CR). If a CR becomes necessary, the positive momentum that this Perkins reauthorization has gained could be lost. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

Q: If it does, what are the consequences? What would be its chances of success next year if the administration and/or Congress changes parties?

A: This is a tough question to break down without getting too far into the weeds — on the one hand, if no action is taken during September, there still might be time before the end of the year and before the administration changes. That’s the ideal scenario.

That said, if the Senate were to change hands, there is no guaranteeing that the proposed changes that ESSA makes would be around  long enough to be implemented, and then it would be back to square one for this iteration of Perkins, which was shaped by ESSA’s focus on flexibility for states.

Q: If the Perkins legislation is not reauthorized, do other sources exist for the funding it provides?

A: As I mentioned earlier, despite Perkins being expired, Congress still provides funding for the grant program. If this legislation does not pass, Perkins most likely would be funded at a level similar to the past few years.

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