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. …