Support for CTE despite proposed cuts

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos (left), accompanied by Education Department Budget Service Director Erica Navarro, looks over her notes as she testifies before the House education appropriations panel on the department's proposed 2018 budget. (Photo: AP/Carolyn Kaster)

During a House education appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos lauded the importance of career and technical education (CTE) in helping to prepare students and workers for available jobs.

While several Republicans on House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Subcommittee also noted their support for CTE, it was Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) who cited that despite DeVos’ accolades for the program, the president’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2017, which was released on Tuesday, would significantly cut federal funding for CTE by 15 percent, or $168 million.

“You can’t talk out of both sides of your mouth,” DeLauro said. “You’re either going to put the money where we believe it’s going to make the best possible bang for the buck or we should just be silent about it.”

DeVos noted that CTE programs are a local issue, noting that she recently visited three community colleges, and they all had different approaches to working with area businesses.

“It really comes down to a local-level partnership,” she said, adding that the Education Department could help by sharing promising practices.

DeVos also noted that awareness of technical careers could happen at a younger age — even before high school — mainly through CTE programs and dual enrollment.

Last week, the House Education and the Workforce Committee by voice vote passed a bipartisan bill that would reauthorize the Perkins Act, which is a key source of federal funding for many community colleges’ workforce development programs. Last fall, a similar bill overwhelmingly passed the full House.

Hard pressed

Democrats on the House panel leaned into several areas of the president’s proposal for $7.9 billion cuts to federally funded education programs. Even a few Republicans noted that they support some of the K-12 and college programs targeted for cuts.

“I’m a big TRIO fan,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma), chair of the subcommittee. “I’ve seen the impact in my district. It’s served its purpose well.”

DeVos noted that not all the programs in TRIO would be cut — mainly funding that serves in-need graduate students and for outreach.

“With tough choices to be made, we felt these were not part of the original intent,” the secretary said.

Much of the discussion focused on K-12 school choice and civil rights issues, but DeVos opened her testimony before the committee by highlighting the struggles and successes of “Mike,” a community college student in East Hartford, Connecticut. He was an average student, but became disillusioned in high school, which he considered “dangerous daycare” because of its poor education environment.

But that changed when he went to a local community college, which DeVos didn’t name.

“He found an environment that was invested in his success,” she said, noting that Mike is studying to become an emergency room nurse.

DeVos said that the Trump administration wants to help students like Mike, citing its support of year-round eligibility for Pell grants, which was reinstated last month through a temporary funding resolution for the current fiscal year. Despite the support, Trump’s budget proposal doesn’t add funding for Pell or link increases to inflation, as many education supporters would like to see to preserve its purchasing power in the face of rising college costs. In fact, the president’s plan would cancel $3.9 billion—approximately 40 percent—of Pell’s surplus.

“A cut to the surplus would potentially hasten the program’s return to funding shortfalls and likely inhibit potential program improvements,” the American Association of Community Colleges noted in its review of the budget’s potential impact on its member colleges.

Senate panel OKs marine centers bill

In other news from Congress, the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has approved by voice vote a bill that would designate maritime workforce training centers at selected community colleges. The centers would help address a shortage of qualified maritime workers, which is a significant challenge to growth in the U.S. maritime industry.

A maritime simulator at Virginia’s Tidewater Community College lets students experience what it’s like to steer a ship. (Photo: TCC)

The Domestic Maritime Centers of Excellence Act was approved on May 18 as part of a reauthorization of U.S. Maritime Administration programs.
Colleges with maritime training programs lauded lawmakers’ support of the bill.

“On behalf of San Jacinto College (SJC) and our maritime industry partners, we sincerely thank our Senate and congressional representatives for supporting us in our promise to train the workforce for the Gulf Coast region,” SJC Chancellor Brenda Hellyer said in a statement.

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