Madam President, I want to begin by thanking my friend from Pennsylvania, Senator Casey, for his commitment both to the students who will benefit from this reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act and to the bipartisanship that helped us reach this point.
I also want to thank Chairman Alexander and Ranking-Member Murray for prioritizing the effort to reauthorize Perkins CTE. Their recognition of the importance of this work was key to getting past an impasse that only a few months ago, looked unlikely to break. Senator Casey and I have had a lot of hours working together to come up with a bill that would make a difference to people that want to work with their hands, to people that want to work with computers.
I have a favorite book that talks about, from cowboys to coal miners, the people that get their hands dirty every day to provide what you need. This is a segment of the economy that we really need. I know that if you need an electrician, or a plumber, you want them right away and you want them trained. That’s what this bill emphasizes and provides for.
I do need to thank the Administration, and Ivanka Trump – Kushner, for putting the spotlight on the reauthorization of Perkins CTE, and Workforce Development generally. With a laser like focus on strengthening the economy, the President and his Administration have rightly recognized that a strong and prosperous economy requires a skilled and ready workforce.
This combined, bipartisan effort resulted in the Senate unanimously passing its amendment to the House’s own bipartisan bill. We did it by voice vote and that’s as bipartisan as it gets around here. And now the House has taken that bill and approved of the changes that were made, which we coordinated with them during all the time we were negotiating. And they have taken the same action, so that bill is now on the way to the president who emphasized that we needed to do it.
Now passing this reauthorization is particularly important to Wyoming where one-sixth of school districts have chosen not to participate in Perkins CTE, because the compliance and reporting burdens were too heavy to justify the funds that they would receive. That changes with this bill. For years, states have been leading the effort to tackle the national workforce skills gap and ensure that they, and our country at large, have a workforce that is capable of meeting the challenges of an increasingly dynamic, competitive, and global economy. Unfortunately, states have been meeting these challenges under a program that was last authorized in 2006.
By modernizing Perkins CTE, we are taking the important step of better aligning the primary, federal career and technical education program with the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and the Every Student Succeeds Act. We like these all to work together and these are all achievements that have been done this year. Because far from working independently, these programs are pieces of the largest and larger workforce development puzzle.
And because it can be hard to know what programs to provide when you don’t know which ones are needed, this legislation will also promote collaboration between all stakeholders so that local businesses are brought to the table to communicate their needs to states and local educators as strategies and programs are developed. We want people hired after they get training, so the training needs to be for the jobs that are going to be available.
Crucially, by enabling the limited funds provided by this program to be more effectively spent on education and less on complying with federal reporting requirements, this legislation will better reflect that the investment made by the federal government into career and technical education represents pennies on the dollar when compared to the investment of money and effort made at the state and local levels.
This bill takes the important step of providing states with greater authority to determine the levels at which they’ll be held accountable under this program. However as states continue to compete for investment, accountability will ultimately come in the form of employers voting with their feet and capital, hiring people. Ask any businessperson what their biggest challenge is, and they’re likely to tell you that it’s finding workers with the right skills and knowledge to fill their open jobs. States and communities that recognize this need and rise to the challenge of preparing their residents for those jobs are the ones that will succeed in this economy.
These improvements, along with many others included in this bill, underscore why passage of this legislation has long been a priority for so many people, and it is only appropriate that one of the clearest displays of bipartisanship in the 115th Congress would be in support of our workforce and the students preparing to join it. I once again want to thank my friend, Senator Casey, for his support in this effort, and I also express my disappointment in how little publicity there’s been.
If there is a controversy, if people are cursing each other or making unusual comments, that makes the paper. But to actually do something – to actually get something done and to get it done in a bipartisan way – people working together, virtually unanimously – they say ‘well that must have been too easy.’ Well if it was easy, we wouldn’t have been working on it since 2006. But we got it done and it is on its way to the president and I am proud of it
Again I thank Senator Casey for his superb effort in reaching agreement on this.
I yield the floor.