While President Trump’s budget proposal promises “a new foundation for American greatness,” the Administration’s $168 million cut to career and technical education poses a barrier to filling the nation’s growing skills gap.
President Trump’s first budget proposal, titled “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” has received mixed reactions since its release a few weeks ago. Trump’s Budget Director, Mick Mulvaney, labeled it as a “taxpayer first budget,” but critics point out that the proposal would cut funding to key programs and departments that taxpayers depend on.
While a few Departments, such as Defense and Homeland Security, would receive increased funding, much of the budget focuses on spending cuts. Among the proposed cuts are a 13.5% decrease in the Department of Education’s budget and a 21% reduction in the Department of Labor’s budget. While these reductions may not seem as austere as other proposed cuts, they affect programs that are essential to growing the economy and preparing the American workforce.
The Administration is proposing a 15% cut to the Department of Education’s “Perkins Grants,” which are discretionary funds that the federal government gives to states for the purpose of supporting Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. This amounts to a $168 million reduction.
While the potential cuts to each state vary, this proposal would put many states’ ability to train their workforces into jeopardy. Nevada, a state whose principal industries of agriculture, health care, and manufacturing employ hundreds of thousands, would receive the largest cut to CTE funding of all – about 52%.
Career and Technical Education is Vital to a Strong Economy
The benefits of career and technical education are far-reaching, and it provides students with a connection between their curriculum and the workplace. For high school students, these programs – which prepare students for careers in everything from agriculture and manufacturing to healthcare and business – keep kids from dropping out and motivate them to perform better in all areas of their academic career, according to the Association for Career & Technical Education. Students then take these skills into their postsecondary and career endeavors.
In economic terms, the need for career and technical education is at an all-time high, with many of the country’s top industries looking to employ those with a CTE background.
According to a survey by Adecco, a U.S. staffing agency, 92% of American business leaders believe American workers are not as skilled as they need to be. Further, 22% and 14% of those executives believe workers lack technical skills and leadership skills, respectively. When asked about the source of the skills gap, 59% said the U.S. education system was at fault.
An unskilled workforce leads to job vacancies, which costs employers nearly $1 million annually, according to a 2017 CareerBuilder study. An active economic policy would focus on reducing these job vacancies, not increasing them.
Another angle to the discussion around CTE is the idea that not everyone should go to college. In fact, Mike Rowe, the former host of Dirty Jobs, has been working the past few years to highlight the numerous alternative education and career options that are both in-demand and well-paying. These include many blue-collar jobs, such as auto mechanics or welding, as well as professional service jobs, such as cosmetology or nursing – all of which are available for study in high schools through CTE programs.
I know the effect these programs can have on a student because I was involved in DECA, a Career Technical Student Organization, in high school. This organization provided me with a diverse understanding and knowledge of business and marketing, and also allowed me to develop several “soft skills,” such as communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.
President Trump spoke many times during the campaign and into his administration about the need for training America’s future workforce.
“Secretary DeVos is working to ensure our workers are trained for the skilled technical jobs that will, in the future, power our country,” Trump said just last month at the signing ceremony for his Buy American, Hire American executive order.
Secretary Betsy DeVos echoed the President’s support for career training last week during her testimony to Congress.
“[CTE] clearly is an area that is of great focus on behalf of the President and this Administration,” DeVos told Rep. Moolenaar (R-MI) during the House’s hearing on the budget.
There is a significant discrepancy between the Trump administration’s words and actions. Despite Trump’s professed dedication to the working class, his budget signifies just the opposite. His administration’s proposal to reduce CTE funding would deal a major blow to the working class and the economy it powers.
Conservatives believe in a robust and prosperous economy. Support for career and technical education is paramount to ensuring just that. The good news is, the White House’s budget proposal is often not the one that gets adopted by Congress (if they even pass a budget, that is). Luckily, CTE enjoys broad bipartisan support. Given such, it is entirely likely that the final budget will include funding for these vital programs.
If President Trump wants to be remembered for enabling a period of prosperity, he should consider increasing the funding for programs like CTE, not cutting it.