Career and technology education (CTE) programs can provide an enriching educational experience for students and lead to a wide range of postsecondary opportunities. Both the federal and state governments have increased their focus on improving CTE programs and opportunities.

In July 2018, the U.S. Congress passed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (also known as Perkins V), which reauthorized and amended the Carl D. Perkins Vocation and Technical Education Act.

The amended law took effect on July 1, 2019. School districts that receive federal funding under Perkins should be aware of what it provides and what their states have included in the plans to best use federal funding.

What is Perkins?

Perkins federal funds support state and local CTE programs. It was first signed into law by President Reagan in 1984. The 2018 reauthorization emphasizes employability, makes significant changes to the Tech Prep program, increases flexibility and local control, and provides approximately $1.2 billion in federal funds for state CTE programs.

Perkins funding comes through as grants to state and local education agencies. The reauthorization ensures the continued flow of these funds and simplifies the process for state and school districts to receive them. The grants have accountability measures to ensure the CTE programs are operating as agreed and that they are delivering results, including increasing the employability of high school graduates.

Grant programs

Title I, Part A, of Perkins describes the grant allotment and allocation to the states. Perkins includes both formula grants and competitive grants. Within the Title I, Part A, allocation for formula grants, the Perkins reauthorization increases the amount that a state may reserve for CTE activities in rural areas and areas with high concentrations of participants.

The reauthorization also adds a new area of high need: regions with disparities or gaps in performance. Perkins continues to make special allocations for funding based on poverty levels, but it includes more flexibility in how to spend the money. The act requires 70 percent of funds made available under Section 112(a)(1) to be allocated based on poverty levels.

Perkins also includes other grants, such as funding for institutions of higher education and funding for organizations to research modernizing CTE and aligning programs and workforce skills with labor market needs.

Similar to Title I funding under the Every Student Succeeds Act, Perkins requires that its funds supplement, and not supplant, non-Perkins funds expended to carry out CTE activities. The requirement to “supplement, not supplant” means districts should not use Perkins to reduce funding that they would have otherwise spent in their programs.

Similarly, Perkins has maintenance of effort requirements at the state level. Failure to maintain non-Perkins spending in a CTE program could result in a percentage deduction to future Perkins funds.

CTE program plans

To receive Perkins grants, a state must submit a plan every four years. Previous authorizations required a plan every six years. To aid in the transition, the U.S. Department of Education has allowed states to submit a transition plan for the 2019-20 school year, followed by a four-year plan for 2020-2024. Most states submitted the one-year transition plan to the Department of Education in late spring of 2019.

To access Perkins grant funding, districts must apply following their state requirements. In most states, requirements will remain the same for the 2019-20 school year.

Middle school CTE

Districts across the country have long included middle school students in CTE program planning. Utah, for example, has required a career exploration course for over 30 years. But now, under the reauthorized Perkins, funding is specifically allowed for this purpose. States now are required to provide career exploration and development opportunities for students in grades five through eight.

For example, Nebraska created a middle school CTE task force and aligned middle school courses to lead into the high school CTE courses. Nebraska has seen success with its CTE programs: The graduation rate for students who concentrated on a specific area of CTE is nearly 100 percent.

Program accountability

Previous reauthorizations of Perkins required the Department of Education to negotiate state performance levels for student academic attainment and other outcomes. Under Perkins V, the state must determine the performance measures to hold state CTE programs accountable. In Texas, the CTE program will be measured with graduation rates of students participating in a CTE program, postsecondary credentials, and participation in work-based learning.

If a state fails to meet at least 90 percent of its level of performance for all CTE student participants, it must develop and implement a program improvement plan. Failure to adequately perform an improvement plan and make substantial progress may result in a loss of all or a portion of the Perkins funds for the state.

States also are required to evaluate local programs funded by Perkins. If the state determines that the district receiving Perkins funding failed to meet at least 90 percent of the local levels of performance, the district must develop and implement an improvement plan. A district that fails to implement an improvement plan or fails to meet the indicators of performance for two consecutive years also may lose all or a portion of its CTE funding.

The U.S. Department of Education maintains the Perkins Collaborative Resource Network (PCRN). The website provides information on numerous national initiatives and includes additional resources to assist districts with implementing Perkins. To see your state’s Perkins V plan and other information, including funding and enrollment information, visit the PCRN State Profiles and National Summary website at cte.ed.gov.

Jasmine Wightman (jasmine.wightman@tasb.org) is a senior attorney with the Texas Association of School Boards.

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