Bottoming Out

Do you work with your local vocational or technical school to help promote automotive and heavy-duty technician education? Do you look to your local vocational and technical schools as a source of talented new technicians?

If you answered 'yes' to either question, then you may be in for a shock when you hear about the little surprise the White House has in store for you.

Because vocational and technical education is hands-on, it requires costly physical resources, in the form of equipment and facilities. Funding for these requirements usually comes from a combination of Federal, State and local funding, as well as private funding and corporate and industry support. In other words, no one funding source can keep this program going; it takes a network of support from the government and the business community.

Today that network is threatened, not by a business slow-down, a drop in enrollment or an economic recession. The threat comes from President Bush's proposed 2006 Federal Budget, which proposes to wipe out funding for Perkins Grants, one of the main sources of vocational and technical education grant money in this nation.

According to a paper prepared by Dave Dettman, assistant professor at St. Louis Community College in St. Louis, MO, the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act of 1998 (CPA III) was established to "1) build on the efforts of states and localities to develop challenging academic standards; 2) promote the development of services and activities that integrate academic, vocational and technical instruction and that link secondary and postsecondary education; 3) increase state and local flexibility to provide services and activities; and 4) disseminate national research and to provide professional development and technical assistance that will improve vocational and technical education programs."

Every year for the past five years, the Bush Administration has tried to cut funding for Perkins Grants and other educational programs, but this is the first time the Administration has called for the complete elimination of CPA III.

In the Bush Administration's own words, "Under the Administration's Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), Vocational Education was rated ineffective because it has produced little or no evidence of improved outcomes for students despite decades of increasing Federal investment."

Read that again, folks: "Vocational Education was rated ineffective because it has produced little or no evidence of improved outcomes for students."

Does this assessment bear any resemblance to your reality? What "evidence" could the Bush Administration possibly be looking at?

Dave Dettman puts the situation in pretty bleak terms: "Even though President Bush claims that he is not eliminating the funds but giving them to a general education fund to be distributed by the school districts, I can guarantee it will result in a drastic cut for career and technical education (CTE). Experience shows that when funds are not specifically ear-marked for CTE, they will be favored for general education programs leading to four year college continuation. School districts typically do not push students toward the career and technical education programs because 'we' believe that a minimum of a four year degree is required to succeed in society today. This is what leads to our shortage of qualified students moving into the career and technical fields."

There is a ray of hope, although a dim one. Every year Congress has fought back President Bush's attempts to gut education funding, and they may once again save the day. But let's face it: the Bush Administration has created a record federal deficit, and its back is against the figurative wall. This President will cut just about any domestic program in sight in his attempts to balance the books, and it doesn't matter much in the White House if a VoTech school in Arkansas closes its doors.

You can help. You can write to the President, your Senator and your Representative, and tell them that eliminating Perkins Grants is a very bad idea. Start at and click on the Carl Perkins link to find a form letter you can cut and paste into your own document. Then go to and enter your zip code to find links to your representatives. Your voice will be heard, and you can make a difference.