This week, the U.S. Congress approved H.R.2353 (Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act) reauthorizing the Perkins Career and Technical Education (CTE) Act, which governs our nation’s CTE programs. Among a broad set of updates, the bill gives a nod to open educational resources (OER) as an allowable use of federal CTE funds for state and local activities.
The bill is expected to be signed into law shortly, and will provide just over $1 billion in federal funding for career and technical education programs. The OER provisions appear under Title I, where “making all forms of instructional content widely available, which may include use of open educational resources” is expressly permitted as an allowable use of funds under State Leadership Activities (Sec. 124) and Local Use of Funds (Sec. 134).
While a relatively minor step from a policy perspective, this marks an important symbolic milestone in SPARC’s efforts to embed openness in the U.S. federal education framework. In 2015, we succeeded in a similar effort to insert OER as an allowable use of funds for a program within the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which reauthorized our nation’s K-12 policy framework established under the Elementary and Secondary School Act. As a result of the provision in ESSA, more than a dozen states included OER in their implementation plans.
Our success on Perkins CTE is thanks to the work of Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) over the last three years. This is also a case of where small steps add up. In the 114th Congress we passed amendments inserting OER into the proposed legislation, and when it was reintroduced in the 115th Congress, our language was in the bill from square one and made it through to the end.
SPARC’s efforts will now return to advancing OER in the third pillar of the nation’s education policy, the Higher Education Act, which was last reauthorized in 2008. SPARC’s primary objective is to pass the Affordable College Textbook Act as part of this process, which would permanently establish a federal grant program to support OER pilot programs in order to reduce textbook costs for students.