Strengthening Career Pathways Through the Power of State and Local Partnerships

By Advance CTE, Education Strategy Group, and New Skills Ready Network – Published June 2021 by Advance CTE –  Subscribe to the WFMonitor eNewsletter

This brief examines how state and local leaders in Colorado, Hawaii, Nebraska, and Tennessee each engaged in community planning to launch Career Technical Education (CTE) initiatives based on Comprehensive Local Needs Assessment (CLNA) guidelines within the federal Perkins V Act. In addition, beyond CLNA, Advance CTE explains how states can “reserve funding to incubate local innovation;” use leadership funds to develop statewide programs of study; establish statewide articulation agreements; provide professional development; and build capacity to identify and address equity gaps through the Perkins V. 

Building Relationships with Local Partners
To develop a statewide plan for the expansion of industry aligned CTE programs, leaders in Colorado’s Community College System office began by engaging with stakeholders that included “parents and representatives from businesses and industry, community organizations, workforce and economic development agencies and education (secondary and postsecondary).” Through six regional meetings held across the state in February 2019, state leaders were able to connect with two hundred and eighty local stakeholders. 

Meeting objectives for state leaders included: “sharing information on the CTE visioning and strategic planning process, collecting feedback on how to improve the state CTE system as a component of Colorado’s talent strategy, and establishing mutually beneficial relationships with stakeholders for feedback on Colorado’s strategic plan for CTE.” As a result of the meetings, the state was able to facilitate education and workforce collaboration, as well as gain feedback from stakeholders on the implementation of new work-based learning partnerships and the concurrent enrollment process. 

Funding Pilot Programs
Through competitive planning and implementation of state grants, the Hawaii Department of Education (HDOE) partnered with the Castle Foundation to update Castle High School’s curriculum and build career pathways for its students. Supported by Perkins V reserve funds and private investment, the state provided resources and guidance to local leaders to transform the school into a “wall-to-wall academy.” Through facility design, specific areas of the school’s campus were designated for career pathways. In addition, through strategic planning, Castle High School faculty were connected to neighboring middle schools “to establish career pathways across the continuum of education.” 

Pilot programs such as these allow for local leaders to drive development and receive technical support from states. Working collaboratively, both entities gain expertise from the other. 

State Technical Assistance
Technical support from states to local leaders aiding the implementation of CTE programs can build capacity and ensure best practices. Nebraska’s CTE reVision process is an example of direct technical assistance provided to local education agencies that lays a strong foundation for state and local partnerships. “Launched in 2012, reVision is a data-driven approach to CTE program improvement that builds local capacity to analyze and transform CTE programs.” 

The reVision process involves secondary and postsecondary education recipients to “analyze student enrollment and performance data disaggregated by program and subpopulation.” With this data, recipients are required to “identify any disparities in participation and performance, develop strategies to address them, and direct Perkins funds toward alleviating and eliminating any barriers.” Through the Perkins V, the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE) “leveraged the new requirement for local recipients to complete a CLNA in order to scale the reVision model statewide.” For Nebraska, reVision is the hub for improving and employing CTE programs throughout the state. The NDE’s goal is to increase CTE access statewide to better serve marginalized student populations. 

Cross-Sector Partnerships
To effectively prepare students for the workforce, collaborative partnerships must be built between industry and education. In Northeast Tennessee, leaders engaged in discussions to address secondary and postsecondary institutions’ lack of workforce preparation for students. As a result, private and public partners agreed to scale up the Work Ethic Diploma, a high school diploma endorsement designed to guarantee job interviews based on a student’s attendance, CTE completion, grade point average, and other basic metrics. Today, the endorsement has gained popularity from local employers and expanded statewide. Over 70 employers “have signed on in support of the Work Ethic Diploma,” and the program is available to any school system in Tennessee. 

The endorsement was originally developed as part of a Labor & Education Alignment Program grant “awarded to Tennessee College of Applied Technology Morristown in coordination with school systems and industry partners in surrounding counties.” Selected by Governor task force “consisting of leadership from Tennessee Department of Education, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Department of Economic and Community Development, Department of Human Services, the University of Tennessee, and Tennessee Higher Education Commission,” through a competitive grant process, the project gained traction as an effective local training pipeline for students to in-demand jobs.

Recommendations to Strengthen State and Local Partnerships
State and local leaders offer different benefits to CTE program development. State agencies, with troves of data, can provide a statewide overview of a programs’ equity and labor market outcomes. With this information, states can distribute resources to specific programs that are proven effective. On the other hand, local organizations generally have a precise focus on the needs of their communities and desire to tailor programs with their specific goals in mind. For this reason, local organizations are more equipped to pilot innovative programs and approaches. To leverage the strengths of both entities and promote cohesive partnerships, Advance CTE offers three recommendations for state policy makers: 

  • Leverage federal and state funds to fuel local innovation, using state criteria as guidelines for quality: States can allocate up to 15 percent of local basic Perkins V grants in a reserve fund, and can be distributed competitively or by a formula to support innovation in pilot sites. Competitive grants also promote “proof of process,” where innovative programs and strategies are replicated in other districts and communities. 
  • Provide meaningful technical assistance to help local administrators identify solutions: Through technical assistance, states can provide collaborative capacity building resources to local organizations to maximize impact. 
  • Share knowledge, ideas and best practices: State leaders offer communities of knowledge and information that local leaders can learn from and contribute to. Best practices and innovation approaches can be shared statewide and help local leaders overcome barriers.