The Flawed Justification for Proposed Career-Tech Budget Cuts

While President Trump’s campaign refrain was to, “Make America Great Again,” his budget proposal for Career Technical Education (CTE) would have the very opposite effect. Instead, it would harm students, employers and the American economy. Despite the administration’s vocal support for CTE, the budget proposes, among other reductions, a $168 million (15 percent) cut to Perkins Basic State Grants, a federal formula grant to secondary and postsecondary CTE programs in all 50 states. Rather than growing the economy and closing the skills gap, this draconian budget proposal makes the administration’s supposed support for CTE ring hollow.

The administration’s explanation for dramatically scaling back the century-old investment in workforce development is that “[CTE] has shown limited evidence of improving postsecondary education or career outcomes…” by pointing to findings from the National Assessment of Career and Technical Education 2014 Final Report. That study actually found that 20 percent of students who participate in CTE in high school become “CTE concentrators,” defining “concentrators” as students who take at least three credits in the same area of interest. Inexplicably, the official used this as evidence of CTE’s supposedly “limited” success.

Simply put, “concentrating” in CTE is but one measure of CTE’s value. Furthermore, CTE does not aim for all students to “concentrate” in a career interest. Instead, CTE has embraced its role in supporting students as they learn about and explore various careers that may be of interest to them. In fact, a recent survey of students enrolled in CTE and their parents found that 93 percent of respondents agree that it’s important to find a career that the student feels passionate about, which students can do with CTE. What’s more, in addition to helping more students pursue their passions, CTE has saved countless students from massive student loan debt that they would have otherwise acquired when exploring (or changing) career paths in college.

The administration is wrong to imply that having 20 percent of CTE students “concentrate” is somehow inconsequential. Besides not accounting for the various reasons students enroll in CTE, there are many things outside of a student’s control that may impact a student’s ability to take a sequence of three courses in a single program area. For instance, many schools don’t offer a program of study with three courses — one result of a 45 percent cut in federal CTE funding over the last 25 years when accounting for inflation. These losses have already had an effect on programming, yet, ironically, the Trump administration wants to use these effects of funding loss to further justify additional funding cuts!

Another factor limiting students’ options may be a school’s master schedule which often forces them to choose between classes required for graduation, which have increased over the last couple of decades and electives, like CTE, they’d like to pursue.

In reality, it’s a testament to CTE’s value — not its limited success — that 20 percent of all high school students find a way to concentrate in CTE. Further, because 94 percent of students take at least one credit of CTE, the 20 percent of CTE students who do “concentrate,” represent more than 18 percent of America’s overall student population — not an insignificant number of Americans to dismiss as “limited evidence”! For these concentrators, graduation rates are 10 percentage points higher than the national average and they demonstrate higher academic achievement, among other benefits. What other program impacts so many students and achieves so much success with such limited federal investment?

What’s equally difficult to understand is that while the president’s budget cuts funding to states by $168 million, it gives itself an additional $20 million to fund a federally administered competitive grant program for only five awardees. So much for the administration’s edict of giving authority over education back to the states, not to mention the practical result of giving five awardees more money than what some states would get through the Perkins Basic State grant.

The president has said that his administration is going to “start [CTE] up big league.” Committing to further strengthening the CTE ecosystem would be welcome — businesses forego 11% of earnings and 9% of revenue because they can’t find qualified workers. But cutting CTE funding isn’t “big league,” it’s a minor league play that puts our nation at risk of striking out in the field of global competitiveness. We need more federal support for CTE, not less. We encourage Congress to put the administration’s proposal on the bench without any playing time, and to instead make smart investments in the nation’s students, employers, economy, and future by increasing funding for Career Technical Education.

This post was co-authored by the Association for Career and Technical Education and Advance CTE.