Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) today introduced two key bills to improve and expand career and technical education opportunities for students, so they are better prepared to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy.
The first bill the Senators introduced - the Workforce Advance Act - will increase dual and concurrent enrollment and early college high school options as part of Perkins-supported career technical education (CTE) programs. Strong CTE programs provide vital access to the knowledge and skills needed for job and career success. The second bill - the Innovation for Tomorrow's Workforce Act - will increase innovation and evidence-based strategies to strength CTE programs and help build strong pathways from the classroom to the workplace.
"High quality career and technical education programs are critical for students across Colorado to succeed in the 21st century," Bennet said. "These bipartisan bills will help create effective pathways to successful careers and well-paying jobs for our kids. In Colorado, we've seen tens of thousands students take advantage of dual and concurrent enrollment opportunities, which is why we want to expand and strengthen these opportunities throughout the country. We've also seen how innovation plays an important role in some of our most successful programs. By creating an innovation fund, promoting apprenticeships, and supporting competency-based education, we can equip students with the knowledge and skills needed for the global economy."
"These bills create a fast, affordable route for students to gain the skills and earn the credentials they need to compete in today's global economy," Hatch said. "Concurrent enrollment programs are demonstrably effective in helping young men and women prepare for their future careers. Take, for example, my home state of Utah: In 2015 alone, our students earned a variety of career certifications and collectively completed more than 180,000 credit hours of college-level courses-all before graduating high school. With each class students took, they were one step closer to finding a job or earning a college degree. I urge my Senate colleagues to help us empower America's youth and strengthen our nation's workforce by supporting these critical pieces of legislation."
The Workforce Advance Act encourages states to examine how they can expand access to CTE dual and concurrent enrollment and early college high school courses. Dual and concurrent enrollment programs and early college courses allow students to earn college credit while still in high school. The bill would allow states to invest leadership dollars in expanding access and supporting teachers and districts to increase the number of courses offered. It would also encourage districts to strengthen CTE programs by incorporating college credit opportunities.
The bill would allow schools to use a portion of the funding they receive through the Perkins Career and Technical Education Act for tuition and fees for CTE college courses. And it would allow school districts to use funding to support educators pursuing the credentials they need to teach these courses in their high schools, helping more students earn college credit. Finally, the bill would allow the Department of Education to use national CTE activities to help identify successful methods and best practices for providing dual or concurrent enrollment programs and early college high school career and technical education opportunities.
The Innovation for Tomorrow's Workforce Act would create a grant program to identify and support innovative activities to improve career and technical education (CTE) and to align workforce skills with labor market needs. Priority in awarding grants would be given to entities that predominantly serve students in low-income families, and entities receiving funds must provide for an independent evaluation of the activities carried out using the grant. The innovation fund may be used flexibly to strengthen ongoing state efforts in career and technical areas, including: improving teacher effectiveness, integrating STEM and computer science into CTE, increasing work-based learning opportunities, and supporting employment outcomes for students. This grant is similar to The Education Innovation and Research, which was included in the Every Student Succeeds Act thanks to Senator Hatch's and Senator Bennet's efforts. A similar version passed the House last Congress.
The bill also includes support for pay for success (PFS) strategies, open education resource (OER), and competency-based education as allowable uses of CTE funds to help support program improvement and innovation. To support efforts to further develop apprenticeship opportunities, the Senators added language in the state leadership and local use sections to provide or support work-based learning opportunities as a permissible use of funds.
Education leaders praised the Senators efforts on Innovation.
"SETDA applauds Senator Hatch and Senator Bennet for championing innovation in Career and Technical Education," Tracy Weeks, SETDA Executive Director, said. "CTE innovation depends on ensuring access to cutting edge instructional supports and SETDA appreciates the bill's focus on encouraging effective technology use and developing and adopting open educational resources. The Innovation for Tomorrow's Workforce Act of 2016 strives for equity in Career and Technical Education by prioritizing grant awards to schools that serve students from low-income families. Increased numbers of students need access to high quality, high impact CTE programs to prepare for success after high school graduation."
"NASBE commends Senator Hatch and Senator Bennet for fighting to advance CTE education," the National Association of State Boards of Education said. "Innovative, high quality career and technical education will prepare more students for later economic success. It also offers important academic benefits and increases college access and completion. NASBE strongly supports the bill's focus on better aligning programs with workforce needs, integrating academic and CTE content, and supporting greater use of open educational resources. We hope Congress approves the measure this year, along with broader CTE reauthorization legislation."