The outside-the-Beltway pressure that pushed Congress to rewrite its bedrock K-12 education law in 2015 has its sights on overhauling another federal law: the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.
The Perkins Act and two other laws—the Every Student Succeeds Act and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act—provide federal support to the nation's education and workforce training system, which includes career and technical education programs. The other two laws have recently been reauthorized, but Perkins was last reauthorized in 2006 and is long-overdue for reauthorization.
Pressure for change is building, however. Much of it comes from the same wall-to-wall coalition of education, labor, parents, community and business groups that rallied successfully behind the Every Student Succeeds Act. These groups are back in Washington—putting that momentum back to work and calling on Congress to complete the job of reauthorizing Perkins this year.
On March 1, a delegation from New York City traveled by bus to the nation's capital. On board were parents, educators and activists from the United Federation of Teachers, all eager to talk with their elected representatives about the need for a revamped Perkins law, one that is fully funded and updated so that students in Brooklyn, the Bronx and beyond can get the opportunities they deserve.
One of those visiting parents was Nicole Job, from Brooklyn. Her daughter, a freshman at Clara Barton High School, is exploring a career in the health sciences, and her dream is to become a neonatal nurse, like her aunt. The path to get there, Job says, is a strong high school CTE program. "A lot of my family members have chosen CTE. I've seen it work, [and] I know my daughter will do well also," the mother explains.
Job visited Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.), along with other parents from Brooklyn. They explained how CTE provides the structure, motivation and knowledge that help students flourish, and the parents see those benefits every day. "I'm here advocating not only for my child but for all children," Job said after the Capitol Hill visit. For many students, CTE "can be the stepping stone to the next level."
Lorraine Bridges, a parent from Queens, also was part of the group, and she cited both personal and professional reasons for making the trip. The CTE component at the high school her son attended, one that was put in place after he graduated, has helped students who otherwise "wouldn't have the skill sets they need right away, even if they don't go straight into college," she explained.
"I'm a human resource professional by day, and I can tell you that all roads lead back to college- and career-ready" preparation, Bridges adds. In her work, she's seen how CTE provides a level of readiness that helps new graduates transition into productive, challenging and rewarding careers.
Leading the delegation from New York was UFT President Michael Mulgrew, who is an AFT vice president, and Sterling Roberson, UFT vice president for career and technical education high schools. Together with AFT President Randi Weingarten, they met with acting Secretary of Education John King. Later, they visited lawmakers and staff in both chambers to discuss Perkins reauthorization, meeting with staff from key Senate and House committees responsible for the law.
In each of the meetings, the AFT leaders stressed how important it is for Congress to pass a new law with resources necessary to support and expand CTE education in schools around the country. And they pointed to ways that a new law can encourage districts to adopt some of the best features found in strong CTE programs. Among them: supportive partnerships that involve educational institutions, labor unions, and business and community groups; high-quality professional development for educators; portable, industry-recognized certificates and credentials appropriate for students' occupational focus; and assistance for guidance counselors working to help students explore career options while in high school.
The real impact of these visits comes when lawmakers hear personal stories from their constituents about the value of CTE, Mulgrew said, and he thanked the New York delegation for the time and commitment they invested in making the lobby day visits a success. "It makes a difference when we talk face to face," Mulgrew said, "and if we keep pushing, there is this possibility" of winning a new law this year that can make strong CTE programs a reality in schools around the nation.
The New York lobby day was complemented by other capital-area event at the beginning of March. The Association for Career and Technical Education held its annual national policy seminar in nearby Arlington, Va., and many of the presentations were focused on the need to reauthorize the Perkins Act. The meeting also provided opportunities for participants to visit Capitol Hill and explain how Perkins needs to be updated so that effective CTE programs can open doors for students. Underscoring this message was a March 1 reception (pictued above) that encouraged lawmakers to talk with students from local schools about the projects they are developing through CTE programs.
AFT initiatives also were showcased at the ACTE policy seminar. On March 2, ACTE featured work undertaken by the Peoria (Ill.) Federation of Teachers as part of the AFT's Promising Pathways initiative (pictured above). With funding from the AFT Innovation Fund, the initiative is supporting AFT locals in Peoria, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Miami as they work with local partners to expand career and technical education opportunities in their schools.
In each city, the career pathways will be closely aligned with the local job market. Effective coordination is the current focus for the Peoria local, which recently brought in a coordinator who works with community, labor, business and government entities that are helping to lay the groundwork for four new career pathways, scheduled to debut in fall 2017. Working with the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council and other groups to catalog internships, job shadowing and other opportunities in the community is a big part of the effort.
At a time of recent change in Peoria school district leadership, the union has been a "stabilizing force" that has worked to keep the CTE initiative on track, local President Jeffrey Adkins-Dutro says. At the ACTE policy seminar, he encouraged the audience to "involve your local, state and national unions" as organizations that can give CTE programs staying power.