Last summer, President Trump signed into law the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act. Referred to as Perkins V, it’s the long-awaited reauthorization of the federal law that governs how states fund and oversee career and technical education (CTE) programs.

Historically, Perkins federal funding has allocated more than $1 billion a year on top of state and local contributions to CTE. 2019 will be no different. Thanks to an appropriations bill passed by Congress in September, as well as funding changes included in the new law, Perkins state grants will increase overall by $70 million this year. The U.S. Department of Education released estimated allocation numbers last week, and the breakdown for state grants indicates Ohio should receive over $46 million in 2019, which is $2.5 million more than its 2018 allocation—an increase of nearly 6 percent.

More funding for CTE, even a relatively modest increase, is good news. But what’s even more important is that the reauthorization, Perkins V, gives both states and local recipients more flexibility in how they spend their allocated funds. The law also allows the U.S. Department of Education to award grants for innovation—which means the Buckeye State could win even more money if it’s brave enough to get creative.

So what’s Ohio to do with this opportunity? Here are two ideas.

Fund innovation

In a 2018 brief, ExcelinEd argues that states should invest in innovation through the Perkins Reserve—a provision that allows state leaders to set aside a percentage of their allocated money to award grants to local recipients. Perkins V raised the allowable amount from 10 to 15 percent, which means states could opt to reserve more money than in years past. Based on the estimated allocation numbers, if state leaders opt to set aside the full 15 percent, Ohio would have nearly $7 million in its reserves.

There’s a lot that Ohio could do with that money, and a grant competition that rewards innovative ideas would be a good place to start. For instance, the state could hold a competition that funds programs committed to expanding and improving work-based learning practices. Another option would be to award funding to programs with promising ideas for how to help the state reach Attainment Goal 2025. The state could also choose to fund innovative solutions to long-standing problems like racial achievement gaps, providing access to or improving the performance of underserved students (which Perkins V prioritizes), or removing transportation barriers for rural students.

Build a better data and tracking system

Ohio has a strong and diverse CTE sector, but information on programs, participation, and outcomes is hard to come by. My colleague Aaron Churchill recently published an overview of Ohio CTE data. Unfortunately, as he notes in his conclusion, his analysis “only scratches the surface” because there’s very little detailed data that are publicly available.

Fortunately, Perkins V offers Ohio an ideal opportunity to fix this. To be eligible for funds under the new law, local recipients must conduct a comprehensive local needs assessment every two years and include the results in their application. The assessment must include five things:

  1. An evaluation of student performance by subgroup on Perkins’s core indicators
  2. A description of CTE programs that are offered, including their size, scope, quality, and alignment
  3. An evaluation of progress toward implementing CTE programs and programs of study
  4. A description of recruitment, retention, and training for CTE educators and support professionals
  5. A description of progress toward implementing equal access to CTE for all students.

This information is precisely the kind of data that Ohio policymakers and taxpayers don’t have easy access to. Under the new law, every local agency that applies for Perkins funds in the foreseeable future will have to collect this information every two years. That means Ohio will soon have a treasure trove of data on CTE programs all across the state. Officials could compile this information in one place and then publicly report it in a user-friendly way that maintains the privacy of students and educators. This would provide increased transparency to taxpayers and would allow families to have a clearer picture of the CTE options in their area. It would also give researchers the ability to track trends and growth over time, particularly if it’s part of a larger system that connects students’ K–12 and higher-education records with workforce data such as wages, career fields, and unemployment records.

Since this data system wouldn’t contain accountability measures tied to sanctions, it would be different than the state report cards that Ohio already generates for CTE programs. The absence of sanctions should make establishing a statewide system that publicly shares local-needs-assessment data more politically feasible. And because Perkins permits states to set additional requirements for those assessments, state officials could align their requests to statewide priorities like Attainment Goal 2025.

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Thanks to Perkins V’s increased flexibility, Ohio’s CTE programs are on the brink of what could be a transformational next few years. The Buckeye State has a solid CTE sector already, but there’s still a ton of room for growth and improvement. Funding innovative ideas through a competitive grant program and improving data collection and transparency are key aspects of taking Ohio’s sector to the next level.

Policy Priority:
Jessica Poiner - Fordham

Jessica Poiner is a 2011 Teach For America corps member who worked as a high school English teacher in Memphis, Tennessee. While in Memphis, she taught for Shelby County Schools and the Achievement School District. A native of Ohio, Jessica holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Baldwin-Wallace University. 

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