It is just the first leg of a long race--and one without a clear finish line. While the reauthorization discussion is just beginning, Congress has many hurdles to surmount before the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act expires in September 2003. But with pending legislation on welfare reform, special education and education research all on the congressional plate during the 2002 election year, Perkins may well be put off for a year until 2004. Furthermore, there is no way of knowing which piece of major legislation scheduled for 2003 will be discussed first--the Workforce Investment Act or Perkins.
Fortunately, if the law expires, the Perkins money is not in any jeopardy, as Congress simply will extend funding until the reauthorization process can begin.
"There's nothing to be concerned about if it does get delayed," explained Nancy O'Brien, director of government relations for ACTE, in an interview with Career Tech Update. "It's a matter of what Congress has time to deal with and when, and the order of things that come up."
Regardless of the reauthorization timeline, career and technical education (CTE) leaders already are convening their discussions of the issues that are likely to arise and starting to formulate their positions. Chief among these debates are how to simplify the implementation of accountability provisions; how to address varied funding needs at the secondary and postsecondary levels; and whether to restore set-aside funds to promote gender equity.
Voc Ed Evolution
When Congress last tackled the Perkins Act nearly four years ago, it was reauthorized after a three-year battle during a climate favoring block grants and increased local control. Over the past two decades, Perkins has changed along with the CTE field, from its first incarnation as the Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act in 1984 to its reauthorization in 1990 (Perkins II) and 1998 (Perkins III). Perhaps the biggest change over the years was an increased focus on academics starting with Perkins II, when funding for the tech prep program was added.
During the 1990s, the number of years that could be considered for inclusion in a tech prep program increased, "broadening the range and the levels of education that could be touched by tech prep," O'Brien said.
In order for vocational education to stay current with the technological advances and higher-level skills required by the workplace, Congress argued that students would need to be armed with both academic and career skills. By 1998, the language in nearly every provision of the bill reflected this new emphasis, as the phrase "integrating academic and technical education" was introduced.
"ACTE advocated for those provisions because our membership was saying that if states are going to require certain levels of academics for high school graduation, we recognize that those levels need to be taught in our programs as well--that our programs can't be considered the watered-down academics any more," O'Brien said. "The fact that the field itself requested that in the last reauthorization shows how this has evolved."
Where there were once separate tracks for the college- and career-bound, now students in CTE programs are just as likely to go on to postsecondary education as non-CTE high school graduates.
Another issue that arose as the Perkins legislation developed over the years was the creation of benchmarks of achievement in secondary education. In fact, Congress just finished wrangling over standards in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act earlier this year. While at the federal level there has been "a conscious effort" to stay away from national standards, initiatives like school-to-work reflect a desire to better coordinate the needs of education and business and industry, O'Brien said.
Still, the government's role in dictating these benchmarks is, at this point, uncertain. President Bush's fiscal 2003 budget, for instance, would shut down the National Skill Standards Board, established in part to keep vocational courses up-to-date.
"ACTE feels that voluntary industry-recognized skill standards ... [are] helpful," O'Brien said. When it comes to content, certification, and degrees, they "show teachers [and] curriculum developers what they need to reach for. But they aren't consistently developed."
Emerging Consensus on Perkins
When members of the CTE community met with the Office of Vocational and Adult Education (OVAE) earlier this year, they gave their perspectives on how Perkins should be shaped in 2003. While Assistant Secretary Carol D'Amico noted that OVAE was interested in "identifying proven strategies and recognizing that there will be a different kind of student" in the near future, the comments made by CTE leaders and advocates primarily centered around funding and the value of vocational education (CTU, January 28, 2002).
Although the discussion still is in its preliminary stages, a consensus now seems to be emerging on what will be the debates over the Course of the next year-and-a-half.
"One of the key pieces for us ... is to work really closely on a lot of broader issues," said Mimi Lufkin, executive director of the National Alliance for Partnerships in Equity (NAPE), a consortium of state agencies that focuses on education equity issues related to workforce development. Like all of those who spoke with Career Tech Update about the Perkins debate, Lufkin listed accountability, assessment, achievement and gender equity as some of the major topics that are surfacing.
The controversy surrounding accountability, for instance, concerns the complicated implementation process states and localities must go through in order to collect data and report on student achievement. Although each state has to present "objective, quantifiable and measurable" results, the act's accountability requirements still appear rather open-ended.
According to Jill Miller, executive director of Women Work! The National Network for Women's Employment, the legislation needs to resolve the seeming disconnect between giving states both flexibility and clear achievement goals. "It's sort of like they want it all," she said, advocating for a "middle ground" on accountability expectations.
Miller is not the only one arguing that accountability is certain to be "a big issue" in the reauthorization debates. Darrell Parks, interim executive director for Ohio ACTE, agrees that the process is "extremely burdensome" to local districts, while O'Brien calls the accountability provisions "a huge nightmare to implement."
"If it's all used in some effective, productive way, then maybe it will have been worth it, but I'm not sure of that because of what states are having to go through," she said.
Legislators will need to quantify what is considered a "reasonable expectation" of how a state can prove that their Perkins funds have been used effectively, she said. "I don't think we're there yet."
"A Negotiating Arrangement"
Another debate that is beginning to surface in many states is the division of funds at the state level between secondary and postsecondary programs. Perkins law gives states the flexibility to make that decision, but some still are waging an internal battle over the money. While the law needs to be responsive to the needs of every state, they are not all organized in the same fashion, Parks explained.
For instance, five percent of Ohio's federal basic state grant can be used for the administration of CTE programs statewide, with some allocations specified by law; the balance goes to local state education agencies. Ohio's board of education is the recipient of the Perkins money, but they also have "a negotiating arrangement" with the board of regents, he said.
In the past, this situation has caused friction over how the funds are split between secondary and postsecondary education programs. "The legislation has stayed relatively vague as to how that administrative money was to be divided," Parks said. "It's kind of a game of who shares in the spoils."
O'Brien feels that the issue is much broader than who gets what percentage of the Perkins funds. While there is consensus that states should continue to decide the split themselves, there may be a need to consider additional ways of providing support for secondary and postsecondary programs.
"Maybe what we need is a new focus, a new initiative," she said. "If there's something lacking, why take it from the other side? It shouldn't have to be a trade-off in that way."
So what is the solution? Parks and O'Brien seem to agree that the final decision should continue to be left up to the state.
An Issue Set Aside
When Perkins I and II were passed, the legislation included provisions to foster gender equity in vocational education and to address the needs of "displaced homemakers"--women who had previously been occupied as family caregivers in the home. However, Perkins III eliminated the set-aside funding for these gender equity programs, as well as the full-time department of education employee in each state responsible for coordinating them.
As a result, some CTE advocates claim that local education agencies now are burdened with using their own Perkins allocation to serve these populations, and these advocates hope to reinstate the set-asides in the upcoming reauthorization.
Drawing on evidence from the October 2001 report by Women Work!, "Invisible Again: The Impact of Changes in Federal Funding on Vocational Programs for Women and Girls," Miller argued that student services, program funding, and support from state and local agencies declined significantly in the year following the implementation of Perkins III.
"There continues to be a great disparity in career tech programs between men and women, girls and boys," she said.
Although NAPE's Lufkin surmises that Congress is "not too favorable" to the idea of restoring gender equity set-asides, she hopes that they will find some way to improve services to the population. In addition, she feels that changes need to be made in guidance counseling at the high school level.
"There's still something going haywire ... in the school strategies to recruit girls into nontraditional fields," she said.
Fortunately, Miller believes that most legislators "on all sides" recognize that gender disparity in the classroom eventually creates a disparity in the workforce, leading to unequal wages and advancement. Furthermore, she hopes the Perkins reauthorization is "a great opportunity to look at new ways of approaching the issue."
"It is really critical that the next bill address this head on," she said.
To get involved in the Perkins Act debate, contact the Government Relations department at 800-826-9972, or visit the Web site at www.acteonline.org/main/govrel.html.…