Senate introduces highly anticipated Perkins Act legislation

By Katie Brown, June 25, 2018

Update: On Wednesday, July 31, President Trump signed the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act into law.


Update: On Monday, July 23rd, the Senate unanimously approved the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (S. 3217)—a bipartisan Perkins Act reauthorization bill passed by the Senate HELP Committee last month. Given consistent efforts by the House to reauthorize the Perkins Act over the last few years, educators, employers and workforce development stakeholders have been eagerly anticipating action in the Senate.

In light of this new development, the House is expected to take up S. 3217 before the end of the 115th Congress—which would mark the first reauthorization of the Perkins Act since 2006. National Skills Coalition is encouraged by these developments and looks forward to continuing to work with legislators and stakeholders to strengthen federal CTE legislation.


On Sunday, June 24th, Senate HELP Committee Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Ranking Member Patty Murray (D-WA) along with Senators Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act—a bipartisan bill that aims to reauthorize the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, also known as the Perkins Act. The Perkins Act is the primary federal law supporting career and technical education (CTE), providing approximately $1.2 billion per year for secondary and postsecondary programs.

Since 2016, the House has passed two Perkins Act reauthorization bills with strong bipartisan approval—leaving further action in the hands of the Senate. National Skills Coalition (NSC) supported both House-passed bills and is encouraged by impending progress in the Senate.

Similarities between House and Senate Perkins Act reauthorization proposals

  • Improve alignment between federal workforce policy and CTE policy
    • Under current law, Governors must submit a state Perkins Act plan every six years. Both the House-passed Perkins reauthorization bill and the Senate’s recent proposal would reduce the period covered by the state plan from six years to four years, to bring it into alignment with the planning period for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, and would allow states to submit a combined plan once every four year that covers both WIOA and Perkins Act programs.
  • Support the use of career pathways to drive student achievement
    • Career pathways, as defined by WIOA, are a combination of rigorous and high-quality education, training and support services that help individuals enter or advance in a specific occupation and obtain both a secondary diploma and at least one recognized postsecondary credential. The House and Senate proposals aim to extend the use of career pathways to CTE students by: carrying over the WIOA definition of career pathways, encouraging coordination between CTE providers and State workforce boards when developing career pathways and requiring recipients of Perkins Act funds to align their programs with existing career pathways if applicable.
  • Further the use of sector partnerships to strengthen worker pipelines
    • Sector partnerships—which are formed when multiple employers in an industry choose to collaborate with a range of other stakeholder, including academic institutions, to develop a pipeline of skilled workers—are a required workforce development practice under WIOA. The House and Senate bills encourage the use of sector partnerships to strengthen CTE programs by recommending that recipients of Perkins Act funds work with these partnerships to align program curriculum with local skill demands.
  • Expand work-based learning models
    • Work-based learning—which can include apprenticeships, on-the-job training, internships and other strategies—has been one of the main focuses of federal workforce policy in recent years. Although many Perkins Act-programs voluntarily incorporate work-based learning as part of their curriculum, current law does not direct administrators to ensure that CTE students have some form of work experience. Under the House and Senate proposals, state and local recipients of Perkins funds are required to submit a description of the work-based learning opportunities that will be provided to CTE students.

Notable differences between House and Senate proposals

  • Roll back of key performance indicators
    • Both the House and Senate Perkins Act bills require states to measure the performance of CTE students at both the secondary and postsecondary levels, to help track the effectiveness of existing Perkins Act programs. State leaders must consider the following performance indicators for students at the secondary level: the percentage of students who graduate high school, attainment of State academic standards adopted under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), and the percentage of students who are enrolled in postsecondary education or advanced training, military service or employment two quarters after the completion of their secondary education.
    • At the postsecondary level, both the House and Senate bills require states to consider: the percentage of students who remain enrolled in postsecondary education or advanced training, enter military service or achieve employment after the second quarter of program completion, those who receive a recognized postsecondary credential within one year of program completion and the percentage of students enrolled in CTE programs that lead to non-traditional fields.
    • Additionally, the House-passed reauthorization bill would mandate the use of median earnings of postsecondary CTE students, two quarters after program completion, as a means to determine program quality. However, the Senate’s proposal removes that requirement—weakening the chances of continuous CTE program improvement.
  • Increased investment in CTE programs through higher authorization levels
    • Both the House and Senate proposals aim to underline the importance of CTE programs by authorizing increased appropriation levels over five years. The House-passed reauthorization bill raises funding levels from $1.13 billion in FY 2018 to $1.21 billion in FY 2023—while the Senate proposal would start funding at $1.22 billion in FY 2019 and increase it to $1.32 billion in FY 2024. These changes are in line with recent efforts to boost Perkins Act funding, including an increase of $75 million for CTE state grants in the FY 2018 omnibus and a timely proposal put forth by the House Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee that would provide an additional $115 million to CTE in FY 2019 if signed into law. NSC is encouraged by this reversal of historic funding cuts to Perkins Act programs.
  • Heightened involvement of local stakeholders in development of state plan
    • Upon review of both House and Senate reauthorization proposals, it is clear that policymakers are committed to ensuring the involvement of local stakeholders in the development of CTE state plans. Notably, both proposals call for recipients of Perkins Act funds to develop their state plans in consultation with teachers, faculty, employers, labor organizations, workforce development boards, community-based organizations, individuals with disabilities, parents, students, the Governor of the state and the heads of other state agencies.
    • However, while the House bill leaves the state plan development and public comment process largely in the hands of eligible agencies, the Senate proposal puts a more formal process in place for the review and comment of state plans—specifically pertaining to performance indicators. Eligible agencies must make state plan performance benchmarks available for public consideration at least 60 days prior to submission of a state plan to the Department of Education Secretary. All comments must be included in the final state plan—and eligible agencies must respond to each comment in writing. If performance indicators are adjusted at any point during the four-year state plan period, this formal review and comment process must take place again.
  • Newly negotiated Secretarial authority provisions
    • In the House-passed Perkins reauthorization bill, the Secretary of Education is prohibited from establishing curriculum or other instructional content that eligible agencies must adapt in order to continue to receive funding under the Perkins Act. Additionally, while the Secretary would be authorized to disapprove a state’s CTE plan, he or she would not have the power to withhold Perkins Act funding from a state under any circumstance.
    • In an attempt to achieve bipartisan consensus, the Senate proposal strikes a notable balance in the area of Secretarial authority. While the Secretary cannot require states to have their academic standards approved by the federal government or deny states who do not apply for Perkins Act funding assistance under any other Department of Education program, he or she is permitted to withhold federal funding from states who do not meet 90 percent of their performance benchmarks for two consecutive years.

Overall, NSC applauds the efforts of both the House and Senate to modernize the Perkins Act, and looks forward to continuing to work with members on both sides of the aisle as they finalize this timely reauthorization bill.