Senate CTE Bill: Modest Improvements for Low-Income Students, Students of Color

By Anna Cielinski

Yesterday, the Senate HELP Committee unanimously passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act for the 21st Century. The bill would help low-income people access economic opportunity by reauthorizing and improving the Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act.

The legislation provides $1.2 billion annually to improve state and local career and technical education programs for secondary and postsecondary students. When it’s done right, CTE helps students acquire skills that have value in the labor market.  Low-income students and students of color should particularly benefit.

The Senate bill isn’t perfect, but it includes stronger accountability and data transparency than the House-passed version. It also prioritizes improving programs for low-income youth and adults and other “special populations.” Furthermore, the bill focuses on improving programs for people who are incarcerated, including those in juvenile justice facilities. The bill makes significant efforts to align CTE with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), the law governing our nation’s core workforce training programs. But there’s room for improvement.

Provisions in the Senate Bill

Accountability: In order to receive career and technical education funding, states submit plans to the Department of Education (ED). These plans summarize their goals, including targets for student outcomes. The Senate CTE bill provides minimum requirements that states are expected to meet. If a state’s targets don’t meet the requirements, ED may not approve it. Unfortunately, the bill removes the ability for ED to negotiate targets with states. That change is part of a bipartisan compromise that protects accountability, including the ability to withhold funds when states fail to meet targets. CLASP urges Congress to clarify and protect accountability improvements.

Transparency: The bill requires outcome data—not just participation data—to be disaggregated by “special populations,” including low-income youth and adults. It also requires disaggregation by racial, ethnic, gender and other groups defined in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Finally, there is transparency by program of study or career cluster. That will help states, ED, and the general public see when certain populations are experiencing different outcomes than others.  This is an important first step toward true accountability.

Targeted populations: The bill requires states to support programs for “special populations,” such as low-income youth and adults, English learners, single parents, and youth in foster care. States are also required to support improvement in career and technical education for people who are incarcerated, including youth in juvenile justice facilities. These are critical improvements over current law.

Alignment with WIOA: It makes sense for federal workforce programs to use the similar accountability metrics, planning, coordination, and definitions. Aligning postsecondary career and technical education with WIOA ensures programs are working together for low-income people. Importantly, the Senate CTE bill uses the WIOA definition of “career pathways.” However, it does a poor job aligning postsecondary performance measures. It’s important to correct that in the ongoing legislative process.

Moving Forward

The Senate bill’s accountability provisions are stronger than last year’s House version. However, further improvements are needed. CLASP looks forward to working with Congress toward a career and technical education bill that promotes equity for low-income students and students of color.