In a watershed moment for his administration on education policy, President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, the first legislation Trump’s signed that makes significant changes to federal education law itself.
The legislation is a reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, a $1.2 billion program last overhauled by Congress in 2006. The new law allows states to set their own goals for career and technical education programs without the education secretary’s approval, requires them to make progress toward those goals, and makes other changes to federal CTE law.
Trump celebrated the bill signing at a “Pledge to America’s Workers” event on Tuesday in Florida designed to showcase the administration’s focus on workforce development.
In a speech at Tampa Technical High School in Tampa, Fla., after the official bill signing at the White House, Trump said the new CTE law would contribute to the “booming economy.”
Thanks to the law, Trump told the crowd, “More than 11 million students and workers will have greater access to better training and more jobs.”
Career and technical education is attracting new attention and support, but it’s also facing new challenges as programs try to evolve to meet changing labor force demands.
Early in his presidency, Trump approved congressional resolutions that overturned Obama-era accountability rules for the Every Student Succeeds Act and a separate set of rules governing teacher preparation. So this isn’t the first act of Congress focused on education he has signed.
But there has been little to no progress on revamping other major education programs in Congress, whether they’re Trump priorities or otherwise:
- Lawmakers have repeatedly rejected a push by Trump and U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to create new federally funded school choice initiatives, such as a $1 billion public school choice program using Title I aid typically directed at low-income students.
- Similarly, Congress hasn’t shown an interest in making dramatic cuts to the U.S. Department of Education like Trump and DeVos have called for in two education budget proposals so far.
- Work on overhauling the Higher Education Act has stalled, even though a GOP-backed higher education bill awaits action by the full House. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., made an HEA overhaul a top priority at the start of the 115th Congress, but to no avail so far.
- There’s been no tangible progress on revamping laws like the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and the Head Start Act that are long overdue for reauthorization.
The Trump administration made reauthorizing Perkins a priority this year, and dispatched the president’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump to Capitol Hill to push senators to approve a bill. Shortly thereafter, the Senate education committee considered and unanimously passed a Perkins reauthorization bill, which was written by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo.
Last week, the Senate then passed the legislation, and the House quickly agreed to a Perkins reauthorization bill as amended by the Senate.
Business groups, the National Governors Association, and education groups like the Council of Chief State School Officers praised Congress’ quick work on CTE legislation over the past month. However, advocacy groups like Advance CTE and the Association for Career and Technical Education indicated that they believed the reauthorization was a mixed bag—the groups worried, for example, that the legislation could lead to states setting “unambitious” goals for CTE, and more paperwork for school leaders to deal with.
CTE educators are tackling a series of tough issues. Tennessee, for example, is trying to close down “dead-end pathways” in favor of programs that teach more sophisticated technology skills.
And there are growing concerns that some CTE courses of study limit access and don’t reach a diverse set of students.