US Department of Education Urges States to Update Career and Technical Education Plans


In response to the dynamic shifts in the workforce landscape prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education has issued a crucial memo urging state governors to revamp their four-year strategic plans for career and technical education (CTE) and workforce development.

The plans, last updated in 2020, play a pivotal role in aligning state initiatives with federal investments and addressing the evolving needs of the workforce. This article delves into the key recommendations from the memo, emphasizing the importance of detailed, equity-driven plans and the utilization of policy levers to bolster workforce education.

US Department of Education Urges States to Update Career and Technical Education Plans
(Photo : UNSPLASH / Roman Mager )

Adapting to Unprecedented Changes

Amy Loyd, Assistant Secretary for Career, Technical, and Adult Education in the Department of Education, notes that the world of education and work has undergone massive changes since the plans were last updated. President Joe Biden's recent legislation, such as the CHIPS and Science Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, has injected historic amounts of funding into workforce development, particularly in fields like clean energy, semiconductors, and biotechnology.

With these unprecedented investments, the plans must now account for the skyrocketing demand in industries that require education beyond high school but not necessarily a four-year degree.
Katie Spiker, Managing Director of Government Affairs at the National Skills Coalition, underscores the significance of recent legislation, estimating that it will result in approximately three million jobs annually across various fields. The new plans must be tailored to meet the demands of these emerging jobs, which often necessitate education beyond high school but not necessarily a traditional four-year degree.

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The Importance of Data and Definitions

The memo emphasizes the need for states to update labor market data in their plans, recognizing that such data are crucial for aligning CTE programs with the current and future economy. It urges states to define terms like "high skill," "high wage," and "in demand" to set clear goals. Notably, only half of states have defined "high wage," and the memo provides models, such as New Mexico's definitions, to guide states in creating comprehensive and standardized terms.

Shalin Jyotishi, Senior Adviser for Education, Labor, and the Future of Work at New America, applauds the memo's call for states to be proactive in addressing workforce development needs. He emphasizes the importance of positive job outcomes but suggests that defining program quality requires considering local living wages for jobs like early childhood educators and allied health professionals.

Closing Equity Gaps and Publicizing Data

The memo stresses the critical need for states to close equity gaps in CTE programs and encourages the use of disaggregated student outcomes data. Disparities highlighted in national CTE program data, such as lower transition rates for students with disabilities and English language learners, underscore the importance of addressing equity in workforce development.

The Department encourages states to use data broken down by race, socioeconomic status, gender, and other categories to set equity goals and hold programs accountable. Perkins V funds, distributed based on a funding formula, can be enhanced by states creating alternate formulas to ensure that funds reach community and technical colleges, particularly for industry credential programs that aren't Pell eligible.

Underutilized Funding and Future Vision

The memo points out underutilized portions of funding, such as the "reserve fund" under Perkins V designed to foster innovation and labor market alignment. Only 14 states fully allocate this fund, and the memo encourages states to leverage these resources for program improvement. Additionally, it highlights the importance of "state leadership activities," including education programs for incarcerated students, urging states to make full use of available funds.

Amy Loyd emphasizes that crafting these plans should not be viewed as a mere compliance exercise for federal dollars but as an opportunity to shape the future of the nation. She envisions these plans as the driving force behind how education and workforce development will fuel the economy, allowing individuals to access high-quality, high-growth, and in-demand careers that contribute to the nation's continued growth and prosperity.

As the U.S. Department of Education issues a compelling call to action for state governors, the importance of updating and refining career and technical education plans cannot be overstated. The evolving workforce landscape demands comprehensive, equity-driven strategies that align with federal investments and address the dynamic needs of the job market. State leaders must seize this opportunity to shape the future, ensuring that education and workforce development initiatives propel the nation toward continued success in a rapidly changing world.

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