On June 26, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held an executive session to markup the bipartisan Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. The bill would reauthorize the Perkins Career and Technical Education (Perkins CTE) Act, last reauthorized in 2006, which governs federal investments toward helping students gain education, credentials, training, and skills toward employment in well-paid, skilled, in-demand careers.
The Senate bill includes elements focusing on flexibility and community decision-making to meet local needs and leverage local resources—changes important to Congress, educators, students, and the afterschool community. Specifically, with regard to the afterschool and youth-serving community, the bill provides:
The first two modifications—employability skills and allowing programming as early as 5th grade—were also advances included in the House version of an updated CTE bill, H.R. 2353, which passed the House in June 2017. The second two components, inclusion in the state plan and being listed in allowable uses, are large steps forward in the Senate bill toward recognizing the importance afterschool programs and community partners play in helping students connect with careers.
However, important language in the House bill around specifically listing community-based partners as eligible entities was overlooked in the Senate version. We would hope that as the legislation moves forward, the bill will include this essential update.
The bill focuses programs on educating and training students for the needs of both large employers and local economies. During the markup, Sen. Kaine (D-Va.) spoke about his recent meetings around CTE reauthorization with a non-profit organization, Together We Bake, whom he referred to as among “philanthropic heroes” in this space, and a large employer in the nuclear industry, BWXT, as a way to showcase the diversity of interested parties in preparing the state’s residents for in-demand careers.
Sen. Murkowski (R-Alaska) during her comments to the HELP committee noted the importance of flexibility to meet local economic needs. For example, she explained, in rural and tribal Alaskan communities the technical knowledge around fixing a snow machine or a four-wheeler can be essential. Meanwhile, across Alaska larger industries and pathways such as health care, aviation, and welding are also in high demand.
Afterschool and summer programs have long been partners in connecting students with both locally relevant and broadly in-demand career fields. Besides the great work programs do in supporting students gaining employability skills, they also introduce students to career pathways and provide skill sets, training, credits, and certification. Examples abound in these areas including automotive maintenance, aviation, welding, health care, engineering and digital technology, food services, construction, and more. Additionally, programs often focus on supporting students in non-traditional careers and providing opportunities to students from underrepresented groups.
After the mark-up, the committee voted unanimously by voice vote to pass the bill out of committee and after 10 days of keeping the record open for comment, to submit to the full senate for consideration.
The markup represents the first official Senate action towards a Perkins CTE reauthorization in this Congress. Sens. Enzi (R-W.Y.) and Casey (D-Pa.), who led the efforts composing the bipartisan bill, complimented each other during the session for their persistence and passion in moving the legislation forward. HELP Committee Chair Sen. Alexander (R-Tenn.) said the bill will “more closely align programs with workforce needs” and HELP Committee Ranking Member Sen. Murray (D-Wa.) said the bill was key to “building an economy and country that works for everyone” and “allow programs to adapt to the needs of their local communities.”
Other highlights of the bill noted by senators on the committee, including those senators also on the Senate CTE Caucus, included collaboration with stakeholders, access for traditionally underrepresented groups, the tools to out-compete anyone in the world, disaggregated data by subgroup, career exploration, licensing career experts to teach, exposure to career pathways in the middle grades (5th-8th grade) and support for career guidance and professional development. All seemed to feel an updated bill was necessary.
As Congress moves forward in updating the Perkins CTE legislation, the afterschool field will be watching closely to ensure the law includes meaningful integration of community partners, including afterschool and summer learning programs, as they play an important role in leveraging resources, providing flexibility, engaging student interest, and meeting student, school, and local economic needs in the 21st century.
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