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Vocational and Technical Education for the Future Act

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


VOCATIONAL AND TECHNICAL EDUCATION FOR THE FUTURE ACT -- (House of Representatives - May 04, 2005)

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Mr. KIND. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentlewoman for yielding me this time, and I commend her for her hard work in the reauthorization of this very important bill.

Mr. Chairman, Wisconsin is very proud of the career and technical college system that we have back home. In fact, I have four of the technical schools in the Third Congressional District in western Wisconsin as well as many of their campus satellites. They have been vital components for economic growth and economic development in our region under the fine leadership of Karen Knox; Lee Rasch; Bill Ihlenfeldt, who actually testified before the Education Committee on this bill; as well as Tim Schreiner, David Hilderbrand, Dr. Mark Hurley. Even though the President did not support reauthorization of this legislation, we believe it is an important investment to make, Mr. Chairman.

The single most important factor in determining America's success in the 21st century will be maintaining our ability to be an innovative and creative society. Over the last few years, the world has become a smaller and more integrated place with technology that is leveling the playing field like never before. Competition and collaboration exist now not just between countries and companies but also between individuals. Meeting this challenge requires a new set of big ideas.

Instead of the administration being so eager to dismantle the New Deal, we should be working together to offer the American people a New New Deal. A New Deal that will enable our people to compete successfully in the 21st century economy with a renewed commitment to worker training programs; an education investment that emphasizes math, science and engineering; research funding in science and medicine; and a comprehensive broadband strategy so every American has access to high-speed Internet hookup.

We believe that economics does not necessarily have to be a zero-sum game; it can be a win-win proposition for everyone involved so long as they have the tools in which to succeed.

One of the unfortunate aspects of this reauthorization bill is the attempt to remove as a separate funded program the Technical Preparation program. I commend my friend from Delaware who is about to offer an amendment later today at least calling for level funding of the Tech-prep program for the next fiscal year. But once you eliminate the separate status of the Technical Preparation program, the fear is that we are going to lose focus and that the institutions will lose focus or, even worse, that the funding stream will become weakened in future years. I would encourage my colleagues to support the amendment that the gentleman from Delaware will be offering to at least provide level funding of this important program.

Technology is driving the innovation. Technology is driving the creativity. Technology and the use of that is going to determine our workers' ability to compete in the 21st century global marketplace. I would hope that the Senate version which keeps the Tech-prep program as a separate funded entity will remain; but at the very least let us support the Castle amendment when it comes up today.

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Mr. KIND. Mr. Chairman, I thank the gentlewoman for yielding me this time.

I too want to commend everyone on the committee and the staff in regards to the bipartisan process of bringing the vocational education bill to the floor for reauthorization. I think it is pretty self-evident that those of us who do have career and tech colleges in our district understand the true value that they bring in preparing the workforce for the future, and the incredible involvement that they have in our community, the leadership that they provide, the economic development and spin-off opportunities that arise from them.

Just one example: we had before the Committee on Education and the Workforce a little bit earlier this year President Bill Ihlenfeldt, who is president of the Chippewa Valley Tech College in my congressional district in western Wisconsin. They have just launched and broken ground on a new nanotechnology center that they are moving forward on, clearly trying to advance the skills of our workers in the region on what could be the next "new" thing in regards to economic opportunities, job creation, cutting-edge science and engineering, and technological discoveries in this new nanotechnology center.

Every bill, as the chairman of the committee expressed, may not be a perfect bill; but this one is good. It could be better. This amendment makes it a little bit better, and I commend my colleague and friend from Delaware for offering the amendment to clarify the language that at least for the next fiscal year we will be looking at level funding for the Tech-Prep program.

During markup of the legislation in committee, the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Tierney) and I offered an amendment that would have restored and kept in tact the separate identity as well as the separate funding stream for the Tech-Prep program. We were not doing this just willy-nilly in support of the status quo, but we were doing it in response to those who have worked with the Tech-Prep program, the feedback that we were getting from outside organizations, and the leadership of the tech education system in the country, about the importance of maintaining Tech-Prep as a separate, distinct identity with a separate funding stream, which the Senate bill recognizes and is moving forward on.

They fear, as I do and others who supported the amendment in committee, that by removing it as a separate entity, by merging it into the general grant program, we are going to lose focus, lose attention, lose incentives for these programs to continue to function in the highly successful manner in which they have. I think, hopefully, we will have a chance to come back and address that issue in conference once the Senate completes their work.

But I would encourage my colleagues to support this amendment. I would encourage them to support the underlying bill. I think it is an important investment in regards to maintaining our ability to be creative and innovative as a society. Right now, we are just leaving too many students behind. There was a recent report submitted to Congress that showed that because of tuition increases and fees, with the cutbacks in financial aid programs at the Federal and State level, with the eroding value of the Pell grant, that 48 percent of low-income students are not going on to postsecondary education opportunities, whether it is a career or technical college, whether it is a 4-year college or university. In short, we are leaving too many students behind at the exact time when we cannot afford to leave anyone behind.

Just a few weeks ago, under the leadership of the gentleman from California (Chairman MCKEON), some of us on the Education Committee had a chance to do an education tour of China. China is getting it. China is trying to propel themselves into the modern economy of the 21st century. This whole globalization that is going on and the trade debates that we have is not so much a race to the bottom with weak labor and environmental standards as it is a race to the top. And China is a country, having just come from there, that is not content at just being good at copying what we make and mass producing it. They want to be good at the cutting-edge research of technology and science and medicine, and they are making major investments in their education infrastructure today that we have never seen before.

They are graduating eight times the number of engineers that we are in our own country. Unless we are willing to accept a fate which may lead us to a less competitive position with countries like China and India that are making this conversion in regards to their education system, we need to recognize the value of a vocational and technical education system, the reauthorization of this bill, the higher education bill, which we will hopefully have an opportunity to bring up later in the year; and offer a new New Deal for the American people, for the workers and the students and our children by holding out hope and a promise that they will be able to develop the skills and the qualities that they need to survive and to succeed in what is a very integrated, competitive playing field throughout the world today.

This, I think, is an important and significant step to making that investment. Hopefully, through the work the Senate and the conference committee later this year will do, we will be able to improve some of the provisions in this bill to make it even better. But this amendment is worthy of support, the bill is worthy of bipartisan support, so that we can at least be moving in the right direction in regards to the global competition that we are all facing, but especially the students who are in the audience here today and the rest of our children, so that they know that they are going to have the ability to compete in a global marketplace.

Again, I commend the leadership on the committee for the work done on this bill, and I encourage support of the amendment and the underlying legislation.

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