As an association of CEOs who represent more than 200 leading U.S. companies with more than 16 million employees, Business Roundtable understands the importance of a skilled, prepared workforce. Its members are also familiar with the skills gap affecting the U.S. economy. According to a recent survey of its members, more than 95 percent of CEOs indicated their companies suffer from skills shortages. The long-term negative impacts of this skills gap on workers, families, businesses, governments and the economy are potentially far-reaching.
Business Roundtable believes the solution to the skills gap is tied directly to the quality of our nation’s education system, which despite improvements, is failing to keep pace with the demands of the global economy. Business Roundtable CEOs believe it is time to take action to improve education and workforce training.
A critical element of this agenda is to support efforts to update and improve career and technical education by reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act), focused on the following priorities:
1. Career and technical education (CTE) must be relevant and meaningful for students.
The Perkins Act should strive to enable more students to participate in CTE programs throughout the nation. These programs must ensure students are provided rigorous and challenging academic instruction, along with career and technical instruction that leads to industry recognized skills in high-demand occupations.
2. Recipients of Perkins Act funding must be accountable for results.
The accountability system under the Perkins Act must be focused, reliable and relevant.
To be focused, there must be alignment between how states and local eligible entities are held accountable and the extent to which they have the flexibility to target funds to meet these expectations.
To be reliable, the accountability system must have meaningful and accurate information, and the ability for grantees and states to benchmark their success with other grantees. For this to happen, there must be consensus around key definitions, similar to other federal education and workforce-related programs.
The accountability system must also be relevant. It must measure the right outcomes; be used to promote quality and reward success; and be transparent so that stakeholders – especially students – can benefit.
3. The business community must be actively engaged in helping to inform and support CTE at the state, regional and local levels.
CTE programs are irrelevant if they fail to account for the needs of employers. Conversely, secondary and post-secondary school leaders who engage with the business community to identify demand occupations (along with specific skill needs) provide real opportunities for students, talent for business expansion and potential new sources of support for schools.
4. The Perkins Act must provide for state/local innovation and reward excellence.
Funding for the Perkins Act has remained stagnant in recent years, making the implementation of innovative initiatives difficult. Given that funding is not likely to increase for the Perkins Act in the near term, the program must be invigorated by enabling more flexibility for states and local grantees with funds to leverage change.
The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins Act) provides one of the main sources of federal funding ($1.1 billion) for supporting career and technical education (CTE) in high schools, technical schools and community colleges. While this funding accounts for only a small portion of state and local CTE spending, “federal policy has had, and continues to have, a large influence on state and local programs and policies.”
The Act was last reauthorized by the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006 (Perkins IV). The reauthorization made several positive steps to strengthen CTE. Specifically, it established a requirement that school districts and community colleges receiving grants offer at least a portion of a “program of study” that integrates academic and CTE courses. In addition, the Act enhanced the accountability for specific outcomes and provided additional flexibility for states and localities in implementing CTE programs.
Despite these additions, the Perkins Act has been criticized for a lack of reliable and comparable data measuring student outcomes; limited alignment with the needs of business and industry; and insufficient collaboration between secondary and post-secondary institutions and other stakeholders to improve the quality of CTE programs.
Several concerns were also raised as part of the Investing in America’s Future: A Blueprint for Transforming Career and Technical Education released by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in early 2012. In referencing the 2006 reauthorization, the Blueprint noted “these changes helped to improve the learning experiences of students but did not go far enough to systemically create better outcomes for students and employers competing in a 21st-century global economy.” The Blueprint called for changes in four main areas to improve the current program:
(1) Alignment. Effective alignment between high-quality CTE programs and labor market needs to equip students with 21st-century skills and prepare them for in-demand occupations in high-growth industry sectors;
(2) Collaboration. Strong collaborations among secondary and post-secondary institutions, employers and industry partners to improve the quality of CTE programs;
(3) Accountability. Meaningful accountability for improving academic outcomes and building technical and employability skills in CTE programs for all students, based upon common definitions and clear metrics for performance; and
(4) Innovation. Increased emphasis on innovation supported by systemic reform of state policies and practices to support CTE implementation of effective practices at the local level.
Despite the current expiration of the authorization of the Perkins Act and the release of the Blueprint nearly two years ago, Congress has been unable to craft a reauthorization proposal. However, in an effort to highlight best practices and identify ways to improve the Act, the House Education and Workforce Committee began to hold hearings in the fall of 2013. As part of those hearings, Members from both parties expressed a desire to work together to update the program. Chairman John Kline (R-MN) noted that the Administration’s Blueprint “offers a solid starting point for bipartisan negotiations, with an emphasis on industry coordination and state involvement in the development of CTE programs.”
Indeed, the themes outlined as part of the Blueprint are consistent across many groups, including within the business community, as essential to strengthening this important program.