Ensuring that high school graduates are prepared for opportunities in the technical, industrial, and skilled service sectors of the economy is an important outcome for public education. And local school funding is not sufficient to meet the needs of equipment, training, and program design needed to continuously adapt to innovations in the American economy. In order to assist states and localities in addressing this need, and to bring a baseline of equity for students throughout the country, the Federal Government established a funding program by passing the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act in 1984.
The Perkins Act, and associated funding, is the primary mechanism by which the federal government supports career and technical education. The impetus behind the legislation was to improve career and technical education throughout the United States in order to support economic health and growth. The history of the legislation, in many ways, provides a map for how the federal government has defined post-secondary success since its initial authorization until its most recent iteration, Perkins V, passed in 2018. The 2018 bill, authorizing funding through 2024, supports career and technical education with $1.2 billion in funding across 50 states. This version included a large emphasis on facilitating hands-on experiences (including apprenticeships), raising the quality of career and technical education, ensuring alignment to current and emerging economic needs, and providing access to these programs for all students, regardless of district size or locale, in addition to promoting alignment of career and college-readiness.
Historically, in many school districts, Perkins funding usage has been limited to its original intent of career and technical education programs and personnel. However, the last two legislative reauthorizations have greatly broadened the approved uses that can support the work and goals of school counselors and career advisors. At its best, Perkins funding can be used to foster opportunities for innovation, promote forward-thinking policies, and provide expanded direct student support.
As you work with others at your school and district to promote high-quality college and career readiness programs, research and explore how Perkins funds might be effectively used to provide relevant tools, resources, experiences, or support to benefit your students. Aligning the long-term funding available through Perkins and the short-term funding available through the American Recovery Plan offers an extraordinary opportunity to modernize how students are supported. Consider starting with the questions below to inform your thinking, create budgets, and guide your planning:
1. How are you partnering with Career and Technical Educators to support postsecondary success?
All too often, counselors, career advisors, and career and technical educators operate in silos--independently planning for student learning and support. When a group of educators all with the common goal of preparing students for postsecondary success can align their thinking and planning, there is often a discovery of common needs and goals. By opening conversations with the variety of CTE teachers--business, health care, DECA, hospitality, or HVAC, for instance--you might realize that many are working toward nearly the same goals. And like counselors, they are often the only professional focusing exclusively on a cohort of students with a post-secondary focus. Collaboration outside of your own sphere often sparks inspiration and creativity ultimately increasing efficiency and the effective use of available funding. Counselors serve as specialized teachers with every student being a unique preparation; CTE teachers and counselors can cross-promote the importance of their postsecondary focus and extra-curricular activities.
Another way counselors can collaborate with CTE colleagues is to consider the master schedule. Moving the CTE offerings from individual, stand-alone courses to the creation of pathways for students is important to align with Perkins requirements. Think about if your school has an explicit career focus on student profession plans. Consider how Perkins funding might be utilized to provide tools or resources to better align these supports to target career and technical learning and training. A task force or committee within the district can help to provide guidance on how to request a portion of the funds to accommodate special projects, ensure budget alignments, and maximize postsecondary success for students through graduation planning.
2. How are you ensuring that programming supports college and career readiness in special populations?
A primary goal of Perkins funding is ensuring that all students--including special populations who might get overlooked--have access to equitable, high-quality career and technical education. This includes English Language Learner (ELL) students, individuals with disabilities, individuals from economically disadvantaged families, and individuals interested in nontraditional career paths. As you consider ways you might use Perkins funding, you might look at your data to determine if there are courses that are inadvertently excluding a specific gender or other demographic groups, or limiting offerings to potential career pathways. For instance, are nursing- and teaching-related programming and offerings predominantly male and technical pathways majority female? Think about how you are communicating the availability of certain courses and programs and if you are reaching all students. Are there programs to build skills and provide opportunities that align with local economic industries or speak to the diversity of interests in your student body? Perkins funding can be used to promote access to programs, create additional opportunities, and to mitigate disparities.
3. What hands-on, real world experiences do you offer to students?
Some of the most effective career and technical awareness, learning, and training happens when students have hands-on, interactive, first-hand experiences. Perkins funding can be a powerful resource to provide students with these kinds of opportunities. Perkins dollars can fund field trips that are taken for educational purposes that promote specific CTE learning or goals. In order to use Perkins funds, these trips must be open to all students participating in the CTE course or program. Perkins funds can also be used to provide students with professional-grade equipment to practice and develop career-relevant skills. Consider using funds to lease, purchase, upgrade, or adapt equipment, including instructional publications, designed to strengthen and support academic and technical skill achievement. These kinds of opportunities for learning are not possible with traditional educational tools and resources and can give students a window into a world they do not yet know, sparking interests and fueling passions.
4. What industry certifications do you offer and are students aware of how that can impact their postsecondary options?
Perkins funding can be used to support students earning industry certifications, which can be a huge asset to students as they work to build their career-ready skill sets. Counselors and career advisors can partner with career and technical educators to consider relevant industry certifications for students and think about what tools, how to most effectively offer the training and testing for these certifications, and any other resources or supports that are needed to help students become proficient in these areas. Consider opportunities for students across a variety of fields such as computer programing, welding, nursing, construction, and mechanical engineering. And, consider how you are communicating these offerings to students as well as how they align with certain career pathways and benefit postsecondary success.
5. How are you informing course design and offerings to align with the local economy?
One of the major updates to the most recent authorization of Perkins was an emphasis on ensuring that students are prepared to fill the necessary roles in the economy that they will meet. This can relate to in-demand careers on a global scale as well as skill sets needed to fill roles in the local economy as well as roles relevant now or predicted to be in the future. Perkins funding can be used to make sure students have access to training from local industry leaders, apprenticeship opportunities, and even virtual and simulated work experiences. Consider using these programs and experiences to foster partnerships with local businesses to expand career and technical learning in your district.
Innovation is a constant in business, technology, and social practices. Perkins funding offers the needed funds for school districts to adjust to the skills students need to be successful in the decades to come. Counselors are well positioned to collaborate with administration and teaching staff to make sure CTE programs offered today are aligned for student success tomorrow, and Perkins can fund these efforts.
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