Bipartisan Talks Begin on Stalled Technical Education Bill

May 11, 2018

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) have re-started negotiations on a stalled career and technical education bill being pushed by the White House and the business community.

Alexander and Murray, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, confirmed to Bloomberg Government that they were working on reauthorizing the vocational skills law, formally known as the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, which gives states grants to fund educational programs focusing on teaching skills for a specific job.

Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) are also part of the negotiations on the bill. “We had a good meeting yesterday but we have to have another meeting next week,” Casey told Bloomberg Government on Wednesday.

This isn’t the first time Murray and Alexander have tried to update the career and technical education act (Pub. L. 109-270). Past efforts to produce a bipartisan bill, including one last fall, foundered over how much authority the Education secretary should have in overseeing the program.

Executive Influence

The talks come as an update of the law has appeared to move higher on the White House’s priority list. President Donald Trump included updating the career and technical education act as a part of his recent infrastructure plan.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and adviser, has been at the forefront of the push. In March, she stressed the need to “refine and reauthorize” the program in an op-ed on Fox News’ web site. In April, she met with Alexander and Enzi to discuss the issue.

She also met with Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) to discuss workforce issues on Tuesday, according to a White House official.

Updating the bill has strong bipartisan support among lawmakers, one of the reasons the White House might be interested in getting legislation passed said Kermit Kaleba, federal policy director with the National Skills Coalition, a group of employers, unions and educators.

The House passed a bill (H.R. 2353) to update the program on a voice vote in June 2017. An October 2017 letter encouraging Alexander and Murray to produce a bipartisan bill was signed by 59 senators.

“There’s the perception that this is something that ought to be doable given the strong bipartisan support,” he said, adding the bill can easily be classified as legislation to help create jobs.

“You can see this being feel-good story if you get to the point of reauthorization,” he said.

Role of the Education Secretary

Past talks between Alexander and Murray have hit a stalemate over how much authority the Education secretary should have in overseeing the career and technical education program. The pair limited the secretary’s oversight when they reauthorized the national K-12 education law (Pub. L. 114-95) in 2015. Alexander said he wants to see similar restrictions in the technical education bill.

“In the past, secretaries of both political parties have not felt restrained,” Alexander told Bloomberg Government. “We just want to have the same kinds of language in the Perkins bill that 85 senators voted for in the Elementary and Secondary Education act.”

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