Picture credit - Combo picture of Otha Thornton (left - Democratic candidate for state school chief), Brian Kemp (center-GOP candidate for governor), and Richard Woods (right- current Republican state school chief).

“If you want to make America great again, you’ve got to make work cool again,” said Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs, to a Congressional Education and Workforce panel in February of 2017.

Career and technical education advocates should be pleased with the new major education policy signed into law on Tuesday by President Trump.

The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act received bipartisan support in the House and Senate. This law was championed by Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, to spearhead the passage of the law.

This new law becomes the most significant education policy initiative the Trump Administration has signed into law since George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which was replaced by Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015.  All of these major education policies were approved with bipartisan support and have had a major impact on the results of the nation’s education landscape as it relates to global competitiveness.

The law revises and restructures the Carl D. Perkins Act which aims to increase the quality of technical education within the United States. The Perkins Act provides for over $1.3 billion to career and technical education programs in all 50 states and supports new integrated career pathway programs.

The new law includes three major areas of revision:

  • 1) Using the term “career and technical education” instead of “vocational education”
  • 2) Maintaining the Tech Prep program as a separate federal funding stream within the legislation
  • 3) Maintaining state administrative funding at 5 percent of a state’s allocation

The law also includes new requirements for “programs of study” that connect academic and technical content across secondary and post-secondary education and strengthens local accountability provisions. Such provisions ensure continuous program improvement along with an increased effort to change policy at the state level to employability skills, work-based learning opportunities, and meaningful credentialing.

In 2016, the House passed a version of the bill with 405-5 vote, but was blocked in the Senate due to politics from the Obama Administration’s views on how to implement the Every Student Succeeds Law.

For many years, students were steered away from “vocational” or career technical colleges or careers because of a perception that vocational training was inferior to a four-year college education. This has created a skills gap in the nation’s workforce.

With this new law, states like Georgia, will have an opportunity to revise and create flexible pathways geared toward the industry within the state’s economy.

With over 52 percent of Georgia’s budget funding education, candidates for Governor and State School Chief have weighed in on the impact of this bipartisan law.

Brian Kemp, GOP nominee for Georgia governor, said the following about the new legislation:

“I appreciate the longstanding and bipartisan support in Washington, D.C. for career and technical education. As governor, I will carry on the Deal legacy by investing time, energy, and resources to ensure the success of our TCSG colleges as they prepare hardworking Georgians to enter – or re-enter – the workforce. I will also work with state leaders to create an Agricultural Workforce Development Program to train future farmers and agri-business employees.” 

A rural focus has been a priority of Kemp’s campaign, and the new law increases additional federal dollars for states where they assist eligible students in rural areas or areas with a significant number of CTE students.

Republican State School Chief, Richard Woods, has been instrumental in changing up new ways to increase focus on Career Technical Education (CTE) since he was elected in 2014. Woods gave the following statement about the law and what changes it would have on Georgia:

“We are encouraged by the reauthorization of the Perkins Act and the bipartisan efforts to modernize career and technical education for the 21st century. We will now begin the work of updating Georgia’s state Perkins plan to ensure it reflects our commitment to a strong Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education program that expands opportunities for all students. We must prepare every child for their next step after high school – whether that’s higher education, enlisting in the military, pursuing an apprenticeship or immediately entering the workforce.” 

Woods will face Democrat Otha Thornton in November to keep his seat in the race for State School Superintendent.

Georgia Democratic nominee for State School Chief, Otha Thornton, who is the former National PTA President, and he also worked closely on the development of the ESSA law, was asked about his position of new revisions to the CTE policy and how it may impact Georgia if he were elected to State School Chief:

“I am a big proponent of career and technical education. Regarding the Workforce Innovation, that is part of the reason I was propelled to a national level. I worked with Arundel County School District in Maryland to create high performing high schools, and we linked in businesses and the economies into the high school’s curriculum. Now, over one-thousand businesses have adopted this policy in to the high schools. Every kid that wanted an opportunity was able to work in a high demand field, such as a STEM engineer program. I want to do this for Georgia and bring resources like this to Georgia’s schools. To be able to leverage these ideas we can do some great things if I am Georgia’s School Superintendent.” 

Democratic Candidate for Georgia governor, Stacey Abrams, has made education a cornerstone of her campaign platform. The campaign was contacted for a reaction but did not give a statement before publishing.

The new legislation also brings in questions of what role the federal government should play in the part of education since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act. With the passage of the new revision of the Carl D. Perkins Act, the law aims to limit the control over how Perkins dollars are spent at the state level to enhance Career Technical Education (CTE). The law, in concert with the Every Student Succeeds Act, looks to empower state and local leaders to ensure students are participating and getting the needed skills for employment.

The new revision allows local and state leaders to align activity with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act in which employers to help develop educational programs to train potential employees. The revision of the Perkins Act, like the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), aims to tie the hands of the federal government’s Education Department allowing states not to barter performance targets with federal officials. Therefore, the federal officials will not be able to withhold funds from states that could fail to meet their goals.

As with many promises from the federal government concerning education, a public policy think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute’s (AEI) Andy Smarick, warns states that there may be a potential danger for of not being held accountable for receiving tens of billions of dollars with no accountable results with too few results.

“A challenge for any Perkins reauthorization that substantially devolves authority will be ensuring it doesn’t turn into a big pot of money producing negligible results,” said Smarick in a 2017 AEI blog posting.

The new law does require states to make progress in their federal education plans continually, requires transparency for public comments, states must compare their performances to other states and make needed adjustments, and states are allowed to make written adjustments to the federal government as needed.

The challenge for states, including Georgia, would be to streamline and end career-pathways that no longer favor the technical skills needed in today’s workforce. With this “hands-off” approach to state education, it will be up to the states to implement programs to maximize outcomes.

The new law becomes effective July 1, 2019.






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