Federal update: Career and Technical Education (CTE) draws attention

The U.S. Senate’s Health Education Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee announced it will hold an Executive Session next week to vote on an as-yet-unnumbered proposal to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act.  The proposal is included on the list of bills to be considered Wednesday, June 20, at 10:30 am.

Nearly a year ago, the U.S. House passed bipartisan legislation (HR 2353) to reauthorize the Perkins CTE Act.  While the House measure passed on a voice vote, similar proposals have been stalled in the Senate amid differences of opinion between the chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and ranking Democrats, particularly over how much authority the Secretary of Education should have to oversee the program.

Meanwhile, the level of federal CTE funding for 2019 remains in doubt.  Last week, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos appeared before the Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee as it reviewed President Trump’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 budget request for education.

The president’s budget calls for level funding the Carl Perkins CTE Basic State Grant program at the FY 2017 enacted level ($1.118 billion).  Back in March, Congress voted to increase Perkins funding for FY 2018 by $75 million above the FY 2017 level ($1.192 billion) as part of the current year Omnibus funding bill.

During the hearing, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), co-chair of the Senate CTE Caucus, pointed out the disconnect between the Trump Administration’s claim of support for CTE and workforce training, and the department’s proposal to fund Perkins at the lower FY 2017 level.

Sec. DeVos responded that a request to “flat fund” Perkins should be taken as an indication that CTE is a “top priority” for the Administration, noting that the FY 2019 budget plan proposes to eliminate or cut many other education programs.  Baldwin called DeVos’ statement “disappointing.”

Amid slow progress on nominations and appropriations bills, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) canceled three of the Senate’s planned four weeks of August recess to provide more time to consider these measures.  While the House of Representatives plans to begin debate on three appropriations bills, work on another three of the 12 FY 2019 government funding bills has not yet started, including the Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations bill.

It is unclear whether both houses of Congress will complete action on all 12 appropriations bills before the new federal fiscal year starts on October 1.  If not, Congress may need to enact a short-term continuing resolution for the funding bills not passed by then.