Duncan touts tech training fund, edtech in budget hearing

The Education Department head asked House members on an appropriations subcommittee for more money to better equip students with workforce skills.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan testifying before the House appropriations subcommittee on his agency’s budget last year. (Screen shot of Appropriations hearing)

Education Secretary Arne Duncan laid out details Wednesday on the department’s new career and technical training program, along with a broader vision for a “pre-K-14” system, in front of members of Congress.

The Obama administration is requesting close to $71 billion in the fiscal year 2016 education budget, a nearly $4 billion increase from last year’s budget. Major proposals include more spending for universal pre-K, free tuition for students attending community colleges and Title I grants to states that need federal funding most.

“Our vision is a pre-K-14 education,” Duncan testified before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies. “Without that, our children start too far behind. It’s a fundamentally different vision for education.”


The administration is asking for $200 million to be allocated toward an American Technical Training Fund, which would come out of the pot of money – $60 billion over 10 years – for Obama’s community college proposal.

Thomas Skelly, director of budget service for the department, explained that competitive grants would be doled out to a select few universities and institutions that have innovative partnerships with private companies.

When asked for examples of successful partnerships, Duncan explained that companies can compete by providing high-tech equipment to colleges; providing guidance on curriculum or teaching industry classes; or providing jobs and internships for teens so they are equipped with the skills to land jobs.

“The idea is we would have a competition and [give] awards to partnerships with colleges and businesses who are aware of the high-demand fields and where there are job training opportunities,” Skelly said.

Duncan said the idea of jobs in IT, health care and other technical fields should be introduced to kids as early as middle school.


“We’re always trying to spur innovation and look for evidence of what’s working,” Duncan said. “I would love to see all high school students graduate not just with a high school diploma, but also industry accreditation.”

Technical training gets short shrift

Arkansas Republican Rep. Steve Womack, who serves on the subcommittee, said he is concerned that career and technical education (CTE) opportunities are getting short shrift.

“We’ve misled an entire generation of young people into making them think the only means to success is a college education,” the Arkansas representative said. “A lot of people with college degrees are still having difficulty finding work and a lot of good-paying technical skilled jobs are not able to be met.”

Womack asked if it was a matter of making CTE “cool” to kids.


“There is an image challenge,” said Duncan, adding that the government has done “a lousy job” branding opportunities in technical fields. “These are great jobs, and we need to let young people and their families know that possibilities exist there,” he said.

Investing in teachers

Also included in the budget request is $300 million for the Investing in Innovation (i3) grants for K-12 schools, and $200 million in state grants for teacher training in educational technology in hopes that more educators will personalize learning for kids.

Duncan said he’s asking for money for state grants “because sometimes our students are a little bit ahead of our teachers. We want to make sure teachers have the access they need as technology drives the classroom.”

The money from the Education Department would complement the increased funding from the Federal Communications Commission in its E-Rate program, which expands high-speed broadband access for kids in rural areas as well as inner cities.


Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., a proponent of educational technology training who introduced a bill called the Achievement Through Technology and Innovation, said many schools have the hardware available, but teachers often are not given the proper training to use it.

“This is important for the future of our country,” Roybal-Allard said of the teacher training funds.

The budget request comes as the House continues to struggle with rewriting the Republican-backed No Child Left Behind bill. A final vote on the measure was shelved after priorities shifted to fund the Department of Homeland Security. Members of both parties have been arguing about more controversial aspects of the bill, including whether states should allow school districts to use local tests.

The Senate is also working on its own version of the bill.

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