If the Bush Administration has its way, a little less funding will be coming into HVACR programs across the country. In fact, it won’t just be HVACR programs. All vocational and technical education programs at secondary and post-secondary institutions may take a hit when our elected officials decide whether or not to renew the Perkins Act.

The Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act secures approximately $1.3 billion in funding to a variety of vocational education programs.

Vo-tech departments can use this money to boost their programs and provide the most up-to-date learning tools. HVACR programs that are able to secure Perkins funding can use the money to purchase new equipment for their labs or to provide more advanced computer systems and software for students.

When the Perkins Act was passed in 1998, it covered program years from July 1, 1999 through June 30, 2004. It expires on Sept. 30, 2003. With the Perkins Act ready to expire, President Bush has proposed reorganizing the available money under the program.

What Are They Thinking?

Many in the industry were made aware of this threat to the Perkins Act when the president’s budget for the 2004 fiscal year was released.

President Bush has proposed two major changes pertaining to the Perkins Act. First, Perkins funding would take a 25 percent cut. This would drop the available Perkins funds to about $1 billion.

Second, the president would like to see this available $1 billion distributed in a different way. Instead of making the money available on a local and school basis, it would be available through state grants. This would give each state the option to redirect vocational funds into Title 1 programs, and would allow secondary and post-secondary programs to use this money where they feel it is most in need.

This could mean using the money to enhance basic academic programs to make sure that students are learning the fundamentals, such as math and reading. If the schools feel that the money could be better used toward their vocational and technical education programs, it could be directed there. This plan is consistent with the president’s No Child Left Behind program, which focuses on improving the basic academic achievement of students.

The administration has been critical of vocational programs, stating, “In high schools, national evaluations and annual performance data show that vocational education has little or no benefit for student academic performance, job skills, or postsecondary degrees. In community colleges, there is no accountability for how the funds are used and no meaningful connection to student outcomes.”

Wait And See

As you can imagine, many in the industry strongly disagree with the president’s stand on vocational programs. Some have begun to put pressure on the administration by arguing for the importance of technical education. The Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE) is one organization that is pushing for renewal of the Perkins Act, including several HVACR associations, including the Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI), the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), and HVAC Excellence, to name only a few.

According to some of these organizations, the cut in funding for vocational programs could trigger a chain of events that would further weaken the economy. The president’s current proposal would make it even more difficult for HVACR programs to flourish, and in turn would make it harder to produce qualified technical workers. A further lack of qualified workers means even fewer employees for HVACR contractors.

It is expected that Congress will vote on the president’s 2004 education budget sometime this fall. Many HVACR associations are urging contractors to contact their senators and congressional representatives and tell them why Perkins funding must stay intact.

You can find out who is representing your state and community by going to www.senate.gov and www.house.gov. ARI is offering a sample letter that individuals can use to send to their local leaders urging them to continue funding technical education. You can obtain a copy by going to www.ari.org.

So what do you think of the president’s current plan for funding vocational education? Go to www.achrnews.com and share your thoughts on our HVACR Forum. The News will be following this story throughout the next few months and will let you know what our industry is doing to protect Perkins funds, what Congress decides this fall, and how that decision will affect you and your business.

James J. Siegel is training & education editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1731, 248-362-0317 (fax), or jamessiegel@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 06/23/2003