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Transcript: Senator Kaine Introduces the Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce Act of 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C. - I rise to introduce the Educating Tomorrow's Workforce Act of 2014. This is a bipartisan bill with Senator Portman, who will follow me on the floor today. Senator Portman and I are working together as co-chairs of the Senate Career and Technical Education Caucus.

Let me first just explain why career and technical education is important to me. I grew up in a household in Kansas City where my dad ran a union-organized iron working shop. He was the owner. Ironworkers and welders. In a good year, eight employees. In a bad year, five employees. My mother and my brothers and I worked in my dad's shop. And I came to appreciate working in that iron working shop, the tremendous craftsmanship and skill that went into being an ironworker. And that lesson has stuck with me for the rest of my life. And I really credit my dad with my work ethic. In a manufacturing welding shop you get to work early because you want to get the work done before it gets too hot in the middle of the day.

I then had the experience in 1980 to take a year off from Harvard Law School and go to Honduras where I was the principal of the Instituto Technical Loyola, which was a school that taught kids to be welders and carpenters. I was able to use the trade I learned in my dad's shop. And what I saw in Honduras was the same thing, that the acquisition of skills, whether it be welding, carpentry or other skills, is a great path to life success.

But, Madam President, one thing I noticed about the education system in my country, even as I was working in my dad's shop, and even as I was a principal in the school in Honduras, was that in the United States we sort of downgrade career and technical education. When I was a kid it was called vocational education. And often, in high schools especially, students that were thought to be kind of problems or not college material would kind of get tracked into vocational education curriculum, and that would usually not be a good sign. In fact, a friend of mine who is a middle schoolteacher in southwest Virginia told me that she would often see her students after they had gone to the high school and ask, “Hey, tell me what you're up to.” And when a student said I'm in the vocational education program, the student would almost slump their shoulders like “I know you're going to be disappointed to hear this. I'm in the vocational education program.”

Career and technical education is a very important pathway for life's success, and there should be no stigma surrounding career and technical education programs. But whether it's in our K-12 schools, or in the higher ed world, or in the mindset of parents, or guidance counselors or even in the military. In the military today our military members can get tuition benefits but they can only be used for college courses. You can get up to 4,500 dollars a year in tuition assistance benefit, but you can't use $500 of it to take the certification exam from the American Welding Society to get your welding certificate. We still have a stigma against career and technical education, and we shouldn't.

CTE integrates numerous aspects of liberal arts degrees for practical and applied purposes. CTE prepares students with industry recognized credentials, professional certificates, occasionally college credits and, most importantly, training for careers as varied as nursing, physician assistant, business administration, manufacturing, oil and natural gas exploration, automotive maintenance, agriculture, welding software program, culinary arts, and many other careers.

And CTE Happens in interesting places. CTE happens in K-12 school systems. It happens on community college campuses. It happens in four-year colleges. It happens in stand-alone institutions like the Newport News Shipbuilding Apprenticeship Program where people learn to manufacture the largest items on planet Earth, nuclear aircraft carriers in submarines in Newport News, Virginia. It happens online. It happens anywhere where there is somebody who wants to obtain a skill and a qualified teacher program that can convey and educate a student in that skill so that they can get a good job. CTE Programs are proven solutions for creating jobs, for retraining workers, older workers who need to find new skills so they can be successful and fill open jobs in the market, and ensure students of all walks, ages and walks of life are ready for a successful career.

Madam President, when I was governor, I worked on a number of educational issues, but one that I was very proud of was starting Governors Career and Technical Academies. We had 17 in Virginia. Governor’s schools that were college prep academic regional magnet public high schools started in the 1970s. But when I was running for governor, I realized we don't have a single school in the state that is a career and technical education program that we have deemed fit to hang the Governor’s label: This is a Governor’s career and technical academy. I said, “This has got to be as important as college prep.” When I was Governor, we started Governor’s Career and Technical Academies by the end of my one term – and that's all you get in Virginia – we had nine. The Republican governor who followed me liked the idea. By the end of his term we had 22. The Democratic governor that followed him is continuing to expand it. And we now have academies around the Commonwealth developed as partnerships among schools, employers, business organizations and postsecondary institutions that confer these skills.

Last week during our break week, I traveled in Virginia and I heard the same message from employers and educators: Education has got to be job relevant. It has to start at earlier grades. Completion rates need to be maximized. We need to make sure that all of our students have the skills that they will need to be able to build successful careers throughout their lives. One entrepreneur even said to me, "I'm so glad I ended up going to the Valley Career and Technical Education Program in the Shenandoah Valley and went into CTE because it has enabled me to be my own boss." I said, “Well, what do you mean be that?” He said, "If I had gone to college I would have gotten a good job offer from a good company, would have taken and probably would still have been there. I would have been having a good career, but somebody else would have been my boss. But by going to a career and technical program and learning a skill, it also encouraged me to be entrepreneurial. And so I didn’t join somebody else’s company, started my own company." CTE promotes entrepreneurial activity.

It is essential for the U.S. to invest in creating a world-class system of education across the spectrum to ensure technically skilled and well-trained workforce that we need. And that is why we are introducing this bill, Senator Portman and I, the Educating Tomorrow's Workforce Act.

Here's what the legislation does. It takes the existing Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education program, which is the major source for federal funding for programs that connect education to real-world careers, and it amends it by doing a couple of things. First, ensures students have access to high-quality CTE Programs in their schools so they can prepare to be college and career-ready. Second, it defines what a rigorous program for CTE students is that links secondary and post-secondary education, to culminate in a degree, or a credit, or a credential, or a license, or apprenticeship, or a post-secondary certificate.

It emphasizes the opportunities for secondary students to earn college or post-secondary credits while they're in high school. I was able to graduate from college in three years because of credits I earned in high school and that was at a time where that was critically important financially for my family that I was able to get through college in three years. This dual enrollment piece of our bill is a piece that Senator Portman worked very hard to make sure what is included.

The legislation allows the Perkins funding to be used by states that want to establish CTE Academies like we did in Virginia and make sure the academies are high-quality. And finally the bill promotes the kinds of partnerships that we need between businesses, industries, postsecondary and other community stake-holders. Partnerships are important that you add people to the workforce.

The Southern Regional Education Board cites that students with highly-integrated CTE Programs, where the CTE Programs and the academic programs are integrated together, that those schools have significantly higher achievement rates in reading, mathematics and sciences than students at schools that don't have integrated programs.

In closing, Madam President – and then I want to defer to my colleague from Ohio – I noticed something when I was mayor of Richmond and Governor that was a change in the kind of economic development world. As mayor, I was often trying to get business to come to Richmond and competing against Savannah or the county next door. And what I found it is what in these competitions, the closing factor was always the incentive factor. “Mr. Mayor, how much money can you put on the table? What kind of tax incentives can you put on the table? Oh, you either beat the other guy or you don't.” But by the time five, six, seven years I was later, the last incentive was not the incentive package anymore. The deciding issue for companies that were choosing to come to Virginia or South Carolina or Singapore wasn't the tax incentives. It was the workforce. “Tell me, Governor, that we'll have the kind of people we need when we open the door tomorrow. And give me confidence that we'll have the kind of people we need 20 years from now, long after the ribbon has been cut and the photos have been taken. Are we still going to have the kinds of people we need to do the kind of work that has to be done?”

In today's world, talent is the most precious asset, more than oil, more than water, more than rare earth minerals. It's talent and human capital that's precious. Recently we did something good in this body, Democrats and Republicans together. We passed the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. And it was passed in the House yesterday, to look at the nation's workforce programs and make them stronger. Now we've got to make the policy changes that go into our education programs and match what we did in the WIOA Reauthorization to prepare our students for a 21st century workforce. I very much hope that the Senate moves forward on the Carl D. Perkins act this year. I'm honored to have Senator Portman, my co-chair on the CTE Caucus here, as the cosponsor of this legislation and, Madam President, I now yield the floor to my colleague from Ohio.