New Perkins Bill Gains Favor With Educators, Lawmakers
By Garry Boulard
For the advocates of vocational and technical education, Rep. Mike Castle, R-Del., has good news: The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act will not be gutted.
“That was one of our primary concerns,” said Kimberly Green, executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, of a Bush administration proposal that called for drastically reducing funding for Perkins, by up to 25 percent.
“But now it looks like that is not going to happen,” Green continued. “The authorization level will actually end up being just slightly higher than where we are now. Not by a lot, but just shy of $400,000, which is better news than we were expecting.”
The initial response of the American Association of Community Colleges to Castle’s legislation, officially titled the Vocational and Technical Education for the Future Act, is also positive — if tentatively so.
“There are, of course, specific areas that we may have questions about, but overall I would say that we are quite pleased with the measure,” said Jim Hermes, senior legislative associate with the AACC. “The legislation looks particularly good when compared with other recent reauthorizations. It hues pretty closely to current law, which by and large works for our membership.”
In a statement, the Association for Career and Technical Education said that “while the bill contains some provisions and details that cause concern, it does not call for the number of dramatic shifts that have been proposed by the Bush administration, maintains much of current law, and holds some positive improvements to current law.”
On introducing the measure, Castle, chairman of the House Education Reform Subcommittee, said “technology and economic competition are combining in ways that are changing the nature of work and are redefining the American workplace.”
For that reason, Castle said, legislation should build on the Perkins Act reforms of 1998, which, he said, “increased the focus on ensuring that participating students at both the secondary and postsecondary levels acquired academic and technical skills, and completed their respective programs and transitioned into successful employment or further education.”
The measure also would continue funding of both career and academic counseling programs at the two-year level.
“Should a student choose to proceed with postsecondary education, enter the military, or pursue other opportunities, the goal of the Perkins program must be to prepare students with the right combination of academic and technical skills so that they may succeed in whatever path they choose,” Castle said.
Prospects for the bill seem bright, especially since it has the support of the House leadership. Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, has praised Castle’s bill as one that will help “modernize vocational and technical education programs and ensure students are prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century.”
But an accompanying provision of the bill calling for combining funding for Tech-Prep and the Perkins Basic State Grants is expected to ignite opposition, primarily because it will do away with funding specifically earmarked for the Tech-Prep program and could eventually mean the overall loss of support for that program.
“Our concern is that if you fold the money into a larger pot, it is going to make it much more likely that you will eventually lose that money altogether, or at least see it significantly reduced,” said the AACC’s Hermes.
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