Congressional inaction and its occasional distraction have delayed the reauthorization of three key pieces of education legislation: the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Higher Education Act (HEA) and the Carl D. Perkins Act. In order to build and maintain a strong workforce, industry must be supported by education policy that ensures high school, college, technical school and community college graduates have employable skills.
Get to know the bills:
The ESEA, commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind, accounts for $60 billion in federal education funding and is the primary law governing K-12 education in the United States. It does this largely by setting federal standards for testing and accountability for failing schools. While both the House and Senate have passed reauthorizations of the ESEA, they unfortunately haven’t settled on a single bill. The House’s bill also contains a provision on portability – the ability of funding to “follow” students to the school of their choice – which would likely draw opposition from Democrats and a veto from the White House.
While there has been significant action on the ESEA, the conference period required for the House and Senate to agree on a single bill could be lengthy.
The HEA supports college affordability and seeks to make schools more accountable to graduation rates and job prospects, which is good for students as well as employers, but since 2008 there have only been extensions with no new long-term reauthorizations – a common theme for all three bills. Unfortunately, policy limitations prevent many technical training programs from dipping in to the large pot of grants and other funding assistance designed to help students pay for education.
Both the House and Senate are currently holding hearings on HEA reauthorization but as of yet neither chamber has put forward a bill.
The Perkins Act is designed to support career and technical education (CTE) programs through grants to states. It has come under fire in recent years as being out of touch with the needs of the modern workforce, especially with regards to STEM education.
Serious discussion of the Perkins Act has fallen behind the other two bills; it will likely have to wait until one or both are completed (or at least progressing towards completion).
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