ProJo: Our Turn: Jim Langevin and Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson: Closing the skills gap is bipartisan affair

ProJo: Our Turn: Jim Langevin and Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson: Closing the skills gap is bipartisan affair

By Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) and Congressman Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA)

Bipartisanship isn’t dead. In fact, it just experienced a significant victory.

Though we come from opposite sides of the aisle, we successfully worked together as co-chairs of the bipartisan Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus to overhaul the law responsible for much of our nation’s career and technical education system.

The Perkins Act, which is the primary federal funding source for career and technical education programs, had not been reauthorized in over a decade, and it was clear there was a strong need to better align what is taught in the classroom with the skills businesses need today.

This long-overdue reauthorization bill, the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, passed Congress unanimously and was signed into law by President Trump on Aug. 1. It ensures businesses have more input in classroom curricula so students are learning in-demand skills for the workplace. It also expands student access to apprenticeships, while increasing career and technical education investment by $100 million over the next five years.

Career and technical education was once known as “vocational education,” which, for many people, evokes memories of shop classes for students who weren’t “cut out” for college. The vocational education of yesteryear was regarded by many as a plan B for students. But that is not the career and technical education of today, which is not a fallback option, but a pathway that appeals to students of all abilities.

Today’s programs prepare students for college and high-skill, high-paying careers. They teach core academic and job-specific technical skills while incorporating the use of communication, teamwork, problem solving and other “soft skills” that are highly valued by employers and lead to better outcomes when students enter the workforce.

In addition to classroom instruction, career and technical education provides hands-on learning using advanced equipment like 3D printers and medical simulators, and it creates opportunities to participate in on-the-job training in leading local businesses. Nearly 12 million students were enrolled in high school and postsecondary classes in the 2016-2017 school year, and this number is growing.

We need to be rid of the stigma that surrounded vocational education once and for all and embrace today’s career and technical education programs. These programs engage students, allow them to explore different career paths, and prepare them for today’s workplace. They also fill a dire economic need: they build a skilled workforce.

When we travel across Rhode Island and Pennsylvania, we hear the same thing from businesses — they can’t find qualified workers to fill open positions. Nationally, 46 percent of employers cite difficulty finding skilled talent, and more than 80 percent of manufacturers report that worker shortages impact their ability to meet customer demand.

Career and technical education helps close this skills gap, driving economic growth and yielding big returns on investment for state economies. But this can only happen when students are learning relevant skills for in-demand jobs, when education and industry are aligned through partnerships across secondary and postsecondary schools.

Our bill puts these partnerships front and center, bringing stakeholders from local businesses and schools to the table. It ensures career and technical education programs are adequately preparing students not only for college, but also for career success and providing them with work-based learning opportunities. It strengthens federal investment in career and technical education programs, allowing students and businesses to thrive.

Our colleagues in Congress agreed this was an important bill. Despite our ideological differences, we found common ground on the necessity of modernizing these programs, on updating an old law to create new pathways of success for our constituents.

Yes, political rhetoric can be nasty at times, but we can work together when we put our minds to it; we did it with career and technical education, and we were proud to lead that effort.

Now it’s time to implement the law, and even more importantly, it’s time to move this spirit of bipartisanship forward — to find other policy areas where we can work together to expand opportunities for the American people.

Jim Langevin is a Democratic U.S. representative from Rhode Island. Glenn “GT” Thompson is a Republican U.S. representative from Pennsylvania.

Gant News: Thompson, Langevin Introduce Bill to Modernize National FFA Organization’s Charter

Gant News: Thompson, Langevin Introduce Bill to Modernize National FFA Organization’s Charter

By Gant Team

WASHINGTON – U.S. Reps. Glenn ‘GT’ Thompson (R-PA) and Jim Langevin (D-RI) have introduced a bill to modernize the charter of the National FFA Organization (formerly Future Farmers of America) to better reflect agriculture education in the 21st Century.

H.R. 5595, the National FFA Organization’s Charter Amendments Act, makes updates to allow the National FFA to be a self-governing organization while maintaining its long-held relationship with the U.S. Department of Education.

As the charter currently reads, the Department of Education holds the majority of the seats on the National FFA’s Board of Directors.

“FFA is the cornerstone of our rural communities throughout the nation,” Thompson said.

“In its 90-year history, the FFA has been a leader in preparing American youth for careers in the agriculture industry. This bipartisan bill will modernize the charter to ensure FFA can take control of its own organization and it can continue to inspire generations of young agriculture leaders.

“I thank my friend Rep. Langevin for his leadership on this issue and look forward to moving the bill through the legislative process.”

“FFA plays a critical role in agricultural education and workforce development in Rhode Island and across the country by allowing young people to explore exciting careers,” Langevin said.

“I’m proud to work with my fellow Career and Technical Education Caucus co-chair, Congressman Thompson, on this bill to modernize FFA’s charter, providing it with the autonomy to be innovative and an increased focus on comprehensive CTE.

“With a new charter, FFA will better fulfill its mission of developing leadership and achievement in American agricultural education.”

“About 100 organizations have federal charters, but FFA is the only one where the government has a majority of seats on the board,” said U.S. Rep. David Young (R-IA), who is an original cosponsor of the bill.

“This bill will allow the FFA to self-govern and continue the important work of educating and empowering our young people to be successful in agriculture.”

“The amendments set the stage for FFA in the 21st century and allows us to bring FFA and our operations into the future,” said Mark Poeschl, chief executive officer of National FFA.

“The one thing that has not changed is our commitment to the relevance that FFA and agricultural education continue to have in our nation’s education system. With its three integral components – classroom/laboratory instruction, supervised agricultural experiences and FFA – the agricultural education model continues to push students toward a thriving future thanks to the relevant skills learned and experience obtained. These amendments will strengthen our commitment.”

About FFA Charter

FFA was founded in 1928. Congress recognized the importance of FFA as an integrate part of vocational agriculture and in 1950 granted the organization a federal charter.

The charter also provides federal authority to create an inter-agency working agreement between the Department of Education and the Department of Agriculture that’s focused on strengthening the FFA and school-based agriculture education.

The role of education in securing a skilled, sustainable workforce in agriculture is underscored through the required involvement of the U.S. Department of Education on the National FFA Board of Directors.

Putting it in Perspective

Only about 100 organizations have charters with federal agencies.  Only six organizations require their respective government agency to select one member for the board of directors.

FFA is the only organization that requires a majority of its board of directors be chosen by its partner government agency.

About H.R. 5595

The legislation introduced by Thompson and Langevin seeks to modernize the National FFA Organization’s relationship with the Department of Education to reflect agriculture education in the 21st Century.

FFA will continue to work closely with the Department of Education as well as USDA to fulfill its mission to better match the innovative and hands-on approaches that many agriculture educators are implementing across the country.