Spotlight Exclusives

Bipartisan Action Possible on Career Training and Education

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House supporters of a bipartisan bill to reauthorize and reform federal policy on career training and education are cautiously hopeful that the Senate will move on the legislation this year.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but I’m hoping very much that we’ll find a champion in the Senate,” House Education and Workforce Committee Chair Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said in an appearance at the American Enterprise Institute on Tuesday. “I’m always hopeful.”

The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, introduced earlier this month, would reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which provides federal funding for career education programs. The bill was introduced by Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) and Glenn Thompson (R-PA).

The legislation would “empower state and local leaders to chart the CTE programs that best meet the needs of their communities,” Foxx said. “It cuts red tape, simplifies the process for students to apply, limits the federal role . . . and improves the alignment of CTE programs with in-demand jobs.”

The House last year overwhelmingly passed a Perkins Act reauthorization by a 405-5 vote, but the measure ultimately was not acted on by the Senate. The committee began marking up the new version of the bill on Wednesday.

Foxx said the central issues in CTE are: “What are we going to do to fill the jobs that are currently open and the jobs that are becoming available, and how do we close the skills gap?”

She said she’d like to banish the word “training” from CTE discussions, as it has a negative connotation. “I want us to get rid of that word as we’re talking about people who are in programs for skill development and words like this give the impression that they aren’t a success if they don’t have a bachelor’s degree.”

“We’ve created two tiers of education: a plan A that includes a four-year or five- or six-year bachelor’s degree . . .  and a plan B that includes everything else,” Foxx said. “We have to change the narrative to accurately reflect this reality.”

AEI Morgridge Fellow in Education Andy Smarick asked Foxx if she and other conservatives believe that, given the rapidly shifting nature of employment, federal programs can be nimble enough to be helpful.

Foxx said her true belief is the federal government should have “no role in education.” But since she sees that as a political impossibility, “The next best thing for us to do is to spend hard-working taxpayers’ money as well as we can spend it . . . to push transparency at every step and push accountability.”

She said members of Congress in both parties hear constantly from employers that they can’t find workers with the right skills. She said the latest CTE legislation would give employers the tools to address that gap, “but the pressure is going to be on them to use them.”

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