President Trump has signed legislation that updates the Department of Education’s $1.2 billion Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. The new law expands support for integrating STEM education into CTE efforts and complements recent White House initiatives focused on workforce development.
On July 31, President Trump signed legislation to update the Department of Education's $1.2 billion Career and Technical Education (CTE) program. The signing caps a prolonged, bipartisan effort in Congress to reauthorize the program, which funds efforts to address workforce shortages and promote secondary and post-secondary training for jobs that do not require a four-year degree. The new CTE law complements recent White House initiatives to support workforce development, including in STEM fields.
Law expands support for STEM programs
First enacted in 1984 and last updated in 2006, the Carl D. Perkins CTE Act sets policy for federal CTE programs funded by DOEd.
The first version of the reauthorization bill sailed through the House last year with overwhelming bipartisan support, but efforts stalled in the Senate for nearly a year due to partisan disagreement over the appropriate balance of authority between the federal government and the states in determining education policy. However, after Ivanka Trump visited Capitol Hill in June to urge action on the legislation, the Senate broke through its impasse and passed its version of the bill on July 23. The House then passed the Senate’s version shortly thereafter.
The law gradually ramps up the authorized funding level for DOEd’s CTE programs from $1.2 billion in fiscal year 2019 to $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2024, although these are non-binding authorizations and final funding levels will be determined through the annual congressional appropriations process.
It also supports STEM-focused CTE programs by permitting states and local grant recipients to use federal funds for activities that increase engagement of underrepresented groups with STEM fields. While states were able to use CTE funds to support STEM education under the previous Perkins law, this is the first time the law has specifically emphasized the role of STEM education in CTE.
In addition, the law also authorizes a national “Innovation and Modernization” competitive grant program at DOEd designed to evaluate and support efforts to better “align workforce skills with labor market needs.” The department may use these program funds to integrate STEM subjects into CTE programs, among other purposes, and the law allows DOEd to allocate up to 20 percent of the CTE “national programs” budget, currently funded at $7 million, for these grants. The administration has proposed increasing the national programs budget to $20 million in fiscal year 2019 to promote the integration of STEM into CTE programs, and the House Appropriations Committee has endorsed the proposal in pending spending legislation.
In a written statement, Trump highlighted how the law addresses growing STEM workforce needs:
In the twelve years since Congress passed the last Perkins reauthorization, the economy has evolved tremendously, becoming increasingly dependent on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines and other skilled labor. … By enacting it into law, we will continue to prepare students for today’s constantly shifting job market, and we will help employers find the workers they need to compete.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and nearly 500 organizations from the Business Roundtable voiced their support for the updated law, emphasizing the importance of a stronger focus on in-demand skills and training for occupations not requiring a bachelor’s degree. Many of these occupations are regarded as a critical component of the next generation of the STEM workforce. The STEM Education Coalition, however, lamented that the bill does not place a “heavier emphasis on vital STEM skills.”
Among the other changes the law makes, it restricts DOEd from dictating curricula or setting performance goals for states. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chair of the Senate committee that oversees DOEd, applauded the move, saying that now states “don’t have to ask ‘Mother May I?,’ when they want to make changes to do what is best for their students.”
White House promoting STEM workforce development
The White House has recently been highlighting STEM education as a vehicle to bolster U.S. workforce development in other ways.
On July 19, Trump issued an executive order that creates a “National Council for the American Worker.” The order aims to promote new education and training opportunities to address a “skills crisis” in the U.S. workforce deriving from developments in “technology, automation, and artificial intelligence.”
One of the council’s initial tasks is to develop a national campaign to increase awareness of the skills crisis, the importance of STEM education, and the new job opportunities stemming from emerging technologies, among other matters.
In a Wall Street Journal piece on the executive order, Ivanka Trump wrote that the Trump administration’s overarching goal is to “create a workforce culture that fosters and prioritizes life-long learning.”