Career and Technical Education Overhaul Advances in Congress

Published jun. 27, 2018

A bill that would overhaul federal support for career and technical education (CTE) took a big step this week, winning approval from a key Senate subcommittee.

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee threw its support to a rewrite of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, also known as the Perkins Act.

Congressional action to update the Perkins Act is long overdue. The act was last updated in 2006 and the action  comes at a time when the nation faces a shortage of skilled workers to fill over 6 million job openings, many of which require some form of postsecondary education or credential beyond high school. A Perkins Act update would help strengthen and expand CTE programs and show that Congress recognizes the increasing emphasis on multiple pathways to a postsecondary credential.

The bill was a bipartisan effort and passed the committee unanimously, while Ivanka Trump—the main administration advocate for action on CTE—looked on from the audience.


The legislation, called The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, by no coincidence has the same name as the House version, which passed around the same time last year.

While neither the House nor the Senate bills make revolutionary changes to the CTE program, they both make improvements that JFF supports.

JFF commends both the House and Senate education committees for their efforts to update the Perkins Act, recognizing that young people and adults face a job market that is significantly different than it was in 2006. JFF also recognizes that high-quality, industry-aligned CTE programs can benefit all students—both those looking for cost-effective paths to obtain the knowledge, skills, and credentials needed to start a career and those looking to get a head start in higher education.

While neither the House nor the Senate bills make revolutionary changes to the CTE program, they both make improvements that JFF supports. Both bills encourage the development of high-quality programs of study; emphasize the importance of work-based learning; encourage the expansion of dual enrollment and early college high school opportunities; require that CTE programs align with the skill needs of employers in in-demand industries and occupations; focus on the importance of developing transferable job skills; and better align CTE with innovations and programs established in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and the Every Student Succeeds Act.


Next, the bill must be considered by the full Senate. After that, the differences in the House and Senate versions must be reconciled before a final version goes for a vote in both houses and is then signed into law by the president. There are still plenty of potential pitfalls to get to a new CTE law, but JFF is optimistic that it could happen this year.


As the process for reauthorization moves ahead, JFF looks forward to working with Congress to ensure the final bill makes a top priority of providing high-quality, in-demand programs of study that provide pathways into college and careers. The bill that ultimately replaces the Perkins Act must ensure that students not only develop skills for in-demand industries, but that they also develop the skills necessary to adapt to an ever-changing economy.