July 24, 2018

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Update on Perkins CTE Passage

Our advocacy conference earlier this month was focused heavily on the reauthorization of the Perkins CTE bill. We were optimistic that the stronger, bipartisan House bill—paired with constructive feedback from practitioners, both superintendents and CTE directors—would be incentive enough for the Senate to make improvements to its bill in its rush to get something over the finish line. We did everything we could, and I am humbled by the time, passion and energy I have seen superintendents across the country dedicate to CTE advocacy the last two weeks. Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t enough, and last night, the Senate unanimously passed a reauthorization for the Perkins CTE Act that AASA was unable to support. The process for moving this bill forward is in stark contrast to the last major K-12 reauthorization, ESSA, and the quality of the bill is reflective of it. I have put-together a quick summary of the key provisions in the Senate bill, which will become law this week. The House is going to pass the bill tomorrow and it will go to President Trump for his signature shortly thereafter.

AASA worked closely with the House over the past two Congresses to pass a strong, bipartisan bill that had universal support from stakeholders in K-12, higher education and business communities. Our two major priorities—reducing the paperwork burden and streamlining the accountability system—were clearly reflected in the House bill.

However, due to enormous political pressure from the White House and business groups this spring, the Senate threw together a hastily written bill that they released on June 26th giving AASA and other stakeholders less than 48 hours to submit comments. The Senate HELP Committee then voted on June 28th on their bill and due to political pressure Senators were urged not to offer amendments. It is not unheard of to see a concerning/flawed bill move to the floor of the chamber; the calculus was more intense and concerning this go-around because Senate education leaders refused to conference their bill with the House bill. Instead of taking a week or two to negotiate with the House and work out differences (just like what occurred during ESSA) and have a traditional legislative process that which would have resulted in a good-faith effort to reconcile differences between the two bills—Senate leadership in both parties simply insisted on their version knowing the political pressure was high enough that the House would have no choice, but to just pass their bill as written.

Over the past two weeks, a few minor technical corrections were made to the bill and by last Thursday the bill was being “hotlined,” which is a way to fast-track legislation to the Senate floor without any opportunity for amendments.  The hotline process requires the passage of legislation by unanimous consent that can only be stopped if a single Senate office calls Senate leadership and places a hold on the bill from moving forward. While we had some great advocacy from superintendents in several states requesting that their Senator place a hold on the bill until our concerns were addressed we could not stop the bill from hitting the floor last night.

In reflecting on what we could have done differently, there is room for improvement all the way around. We were also frustrated to find ourselves out front and virtually alone in articulating that politics should not trump sound education policy. As a result, we were the only major K-12 organization that vocally opposed this bill and we simply couldn’t compete with the White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce by ourselves.

We tried our best to pass meaningful CTE legislation that would have improved access and equity in CTE programs across the country as well as ensured that district leaders had the flexibility to really focus on program improvement in a meaningful and sensible way. Unfortunately, politics got the better of policy.

Thank you for your individual efforts to make calls, send emails and show-up to meetings on the Hill and have difficult conversations. The success of our department begins and ends with the engagement and support of our AASA members, and we so appreciate the time and effort you gave in fighting this good fight, even if we didn’t get the outcome we wanted. With the groundwork we have laid this time, I am confident we will win next time.