Updated Perkins Act Places Greater Emphasis on Work-Based Learning

President Donald Trump signed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act into law on July 31, 2018.

At the end of last month, President Donald Trump signed the long-awaited reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Act, a $1.2 billion annual federal investment aimed at developing local and state secondary and post-secondary programs for students participating in career and technical education.

The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (or Perkins V) is designed to increase employment opportunities for populations that are chronically unemployed or underemployed, including foster youth, those who have aged out of the foster care system and others.

Perkins has worked to provide students in high school classes, community colleges and vocational learning programs with the academic instruction and occupational skills training needed to find careers in current or emerging employment sectors. Last authorized in 2006, advocates hope this update will address concerns that the law hadn’t adequately kept up with the changing demands of today’s economy, including greater need for technological skills training.

A few key changes made in Perkins V:

An emphasis on work-based learning. This provision emphasizes greater opportunities to work with professionals in experiential learning opportunities — including on-the-job training, apprenticeships, shadowing, internships and other approaches — which lines up with the Trump administration’s emphasis on encouraging the use of apprenticeships.

Kermit Kaleba, federal policy director for the National Skills Coalition, said his organization was “thrilled to see” the attention placed on work-based learning opportunities in the bill and hopes it will create more opportunities for apprenticeships.

“Hopefully as the implementation moves forward, states and communities will take advantage of resources that are available for apprenticeships — and the momentum around apprenticeships — to make sure that those opportunities are being made available to CTE students at both the secondary and post-secondary level,” Kaleba said during a webinar earlier this month sponsored by the National Skills Coalition.

Special populations. Current and former foster youth were already included in the list of “special populations” that are earmarked for some preferences in state spending. However, two new categories are included in the new law: homeless individuals and youth with a parent on active duty in the armed forces. The new law also boosts the amount states may spend on students in state correctional systems and juvenile justice facilities.

New state allocations. The law sets aside a small amount of money, no more than $50,000, to be devoted to the recruitment of “special populations” to enroll in career and technical education programs. States should also increase the amount of money they spend on rural areas, areas with a great need for career and technical programs or areas with gaps or disparities in performance.

Better alignment with other federal funding streams. Perkins V includes a host of new and amended definitions for work and educational activities and performance metrics. Many of these definitions are shared by similar federal career and education efforts, such as the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Advocates hope this will offer greater opportunities for states to create a continuum of workforce preparation for young people and minimize burdensome reporting requirements.

New focus on middle schools. The new law will now allow school districts to spend federal funds on “middle grades,” not just high school and post-secondary students.

Because the law has fewer requirements than previous iterations, states and local jurisdictions will have more discretion to work with populations like foster youth, according to Kim Green, executive director of Advance CTE.

“To me, what that says to states and locals is that in partnership with your stakeholders, have that conversation,” said Green during the webinar. “Who has the greatest needs, who are we not serving?”

The U.S. Department of Education will work with states to implement the new version of Perkins that will take effect on July 1, 2019 .

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