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Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act

The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act (the Perkins Act) governs about a billion dollars in federal vocational education appropriations annually. Formerly known as the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Applied Technology Education Act, the Perkins Act was reauthorized and amended in 1998 (4). Because much of the Perkins Act is written in terms of recipients' obligations throughout their vocational education programs, the act's mandates reach far beyond its funds, to leverage about nine times as much in state and local appropriations. Just about every school district and community college receives Perkins funds and is subject to Perkins requirements.
 

A.  Funding, Targeting, and Flow Through
At the secondary education level, Perkins funds flow through states to local education agencies (LEAs), and through them to vocational programs. The funding formula targets funds to LEAs with high poverty rates and high proportions of students with disabilities. There are three types of secondary vocational settings: (1) comprehensive high schools that have some students participating in vocational education, while others are not; (2) vocational high schools where all students participate in a vocational program; and (3) regional/area vocational schools serving a group of suburban or rural districts, each of which contributes some or all of its Perkins and other vocational funding to the school. Postsecondary vocational education consists largely of public community colleges and private, for-profit ("proprietary") schools. Perkins funds - and obligations - go to community colleges and vocational-technical institutes.

B. Purpose of the Act
The Perkins Act was rewritten in 1990 to move away from an outmoded industrial model of vocational education, which sought to tailor training to the specific requirements projected for one narrowly defined job slot. To address Congressional concerns about narrow skill training and diluted academics, while retaining the potential of vocational education to make learning active, practical, and exploratory, the 1990 Perkins Act emphasized two related approaches:

  1. Integrating vocational and academic education so that students gain strong basic and advanced academic skills in a vocational setting, and
  2. Providing students with strong experience in and understanding of all aspects of the industry they are preparing to enter, including planning, management, finance, technical and production skills, underlying principles of technology, labor, community, and health, safety, and environmental issues

The 1998 Perkins Act retains these emphases. It also makes explicit the requirement that students in vocational education programs be taught the same challenging academic proficiencies that all other students are taught (5). These quality criteria, together with a strong equity focus, shape state and local requirements.

C. Equity and Special Populations
The equity provisions of the Perkins Act address rights and protections for students who are members of "special populations." "Special populations" include individuals with disabilities; individuals from economically disadvantaged families, including foster children; individuals preparing for nontraditional training and employment; single parents, including single pregnant women; displaced homemakers; and individuals with other barriers to educational achievement, including individuals with limited English proficiency (6).

Community colleges and LEAs receiving Perkins funds must provide special-population students with equal access to Perkins-assisted activities (7). Prior civil rights rulings make it clear that "access" must include the services necessary for real participation (8). Moreover, programs may not discriminate on the basis of special-population status (9). Beyond provision of equal access and nondiscrimination, Perkins recipients have explicit obligations to develop program strategies for special populations; to provide programs that prepare special-population students for further learning and high-skill, high-wage careers, and are designed to enable them to meet the same levels of performance set for all students; and to identify barriers that result in lowering rates of access to or lowering success in vocational programs for special populations, and adopt strategies for overcoming them (10). Equity concerns also pervade the act's program evaluation and improvement schemes, which are discussed below in chapter 8.

D. Quality and Equity Criteria
In sum, state and local vocational education planning, program design, and evaluation must focus on four quality and equity criteria:

  1. Integrating vocational and academic education through a coherent sequence of courses, so that while in a vocational setting, students gain strong basic and advanced academic skills, including skills in mathematics, reading, writing, science, and social studies (11);
  2. Providing students with strong understanding of and experience in all aspects of the industry they are preparing to enter (12), which should include planning, management, finance, technical and production skills, underlying principles of technology, labor, community, and health, safety, and environmental issues;
  3. Ensuring that students are taught to high standards, including teaching the same challenging academic proficiencies all other students are taught (13); and
  4. Providing for equitable and successful participation of special population students, through equal access, nondiscrimination, and the individual services they need to succeed and meet the same standards applicable to all students.

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