Thompson: Career and technical education bill gives workers competitive edge

U.S. Rep Glenn “G.T.” Thompson (R-PA) recently urged Congress to approve a bipartisan career and technical education bill he sponsored that would help arm today’s workforce with the skills needed to compete for well-paying jobs in a global economy.

The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, H.R. 5587, would limit the role of the federal government and empower states and local community leaders by giving them greater flexibility over how they use federal funds for career and technical education.

“When you are making decisions and it’s coming out of the Washington bureaucracy, it is very difficult to respond to emerging trends and needs in terms of jobs and finding qualified workers,” Thompson said in a recent interview with the Ripon Advance.

It has been 10 years since the current law, the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act, was authorized to provide federal funding for a variety of fields, including health care, agriculture and technology. Supporters of the bill, however, say that it no longer reflects the realities that students and older workers face today when vying for jobs.

Thompson, who serves on the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said that the bill to reform the Perkins Act offers benefits to Americans in a wide variety of circumstances.

“Obviously it is for young folks in secondary schools, but career and technical education training is also for the person who wants to do better by their families,” Thompson said. “They want to go out and get some training or certification to get a better job or a promotion.”

For those who have lost a job or for those in poverty, this type of career and technical education offers an exit strategy, Thompson added. The bill supports technical education schools and apprenticeships, among other types of job training programs.

Thompson, who is also the co-chair of the Career and Technical Education Caucus, said that the bill provides an opportunity for “flexible innovation” in education.

With states and communities actively engaging with the businesses and industries that have hiring needs, career and technical education training programs can be tailored to the jobs that are most in demand.

The goal is to build better community partnerships with employers, and local business leaders would be involved in the development of career and technical education and the performance goals set at the state and local levels.

The legislation also prevents the federal government from withholding funds from a state that does not meet certain performance targets. Instead, states and local communities would develop and oversee any needed improvement plans.

Transparency and accountability measures would also be preserved under the legislation to ensure that programs are delivering results for students. The number of performance measures for secondary and post-secondary programs would be streamlined.

States would set performance goals through an open process that includes input from local education leaders, parents and students, workforce development boards, business representatives, and others.

In diminishing the federal government’s role in education, the bill is consistent with the current K-12 education law that replaced the No Child Left Behind Act in 2015.

Thompson, who sponsored the bill with U.S. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-MA), noted that it passed the House Education and the Workforce Committee unanimously in July by a vote of 37-0.

Thompson said that he hopes the full House will approve H.R. 5587 in September, allowing the Senate time to consider the bill and send it on to the president by the end of the year. The Senate is also debating its own version of the Perkins reauthorization bill in committee, but Thompson said that he is not aware of any significant differences between the two versions of the bill.

“I think this is a very good bipartisan and bicameral piece of legislation,” Thompson said. “I have personally been working on this with many others in a bipartisan way for eight years now. That’s what it takes to do something right.”

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