Perkins Grant

The Perkins Grant is a federal grant program designed to assist vocational schools. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education grant is funding that is awarded from the US Government to the states, then allocated to vocational schools within each state based on student population numbers. A school’s vocational program must be eligible to apply. Schools must be certified by the state to run vocational programs.

This grant is available in the Spring, usually late March for submissions to be accepted by the state vocational education liaison for  final approval. The award year runs from July 1 – June 30 of the following year.

Carl D. Perkins (1912-1984) was a lawyer and politician from Hindman, Kentucky. His support to education and the under-privileged is demonstrated by the federal student legislation named for him. The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006 provides federal money for career technical education. He was elected as a Democrat to the Eighty-first Congressional district and served from January 3, 1949, until his death in 1984.

Under the Perkins Act, federal funds are made available to provide vocational-technical education programs and services to youth and adults. Most of the funds appropriated under the Perkins Act are awarded to state education agencies, then distributed to local schools with accredited programs.

Some vocational schools stand alone as regional centers of education for students who wish to pursue a technical career right out of high school. Some are public schools within an established city or town school district. Others are collaboratives or Career Centers as in the state of Ohio. All are valuable and central to a larger plan developed at the federal level.

The Perkins Act helps us define vocational education as “organized educational programs offering a sequence of courses which are directly related to the preparation of individuals in paid or unpaid employment in current or emerging occupations requiring other than a baccalaureate or advanced degree”.

The key is emerging programs. One of the challenges of operating a vocational school is staying up to date with technical career opportunities that students may pursue when they graduate. Imagine a vocational program in 1954; the programs were designed to train machine operators to support such industries as automotive companies and steel making plants.

Today, as you might imagine, students in vocational programs are being trained in sophisticated skills to support electronic and computer industries. The schools are now completely outfitted with new appropriate training tools for this shift in focus. The Perkins funds are designed to support those changes so the schools can stay relevant to U.S. businesses. These are not grants to individual students, they are for keeping schools and programs ready to graduate students with relevant skills.

When I was a grants manager for a district with its own vocational school, I remember it was often difficult to write the Perkins grant for eligible expenditures. Our state liaison, though helpful and knowledgeable, was a stickler for spending the funds appropriately. The funds are not for teacher salaries, for instance. This cost must be borne by the local school district. The grant would support purchases of equipment and supplies if they were part of a larger program in the school to upgrade facilities for a specific well-defined career niche with a demonstrated need for new employees. They were not designed to take the place of funds that showed the community’s commitment to vocational programming.

Some secondary vocational courses provide general job preparation, teaching general employment skills, such as introductory typing or word processing, industrial arts, and career education rather than preparing students for paid employment in a specific occupation. I remember thinking that the funds were insufficient for the growing needs of a school that will need to change dramatically over the next 25 years. However, Perkins grants announce an intention, and help vocational schools define their mission and support newly created jobs in the community.

Read more about the Perkins and vocational education here:

Carl D. Perkins Legacy
Allowable and Unallowable Costs for Perkins Grants
Guidelines for Use of Perkins Funds (Georgia)
Federal Blueprint for Career and Technical Education in the U.S.
Arguments For and Against Vocational Education
United States Department of Labor
Association for Career and Technical Education

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About Neva Fenno

Neva Fenno, M.S.Ed., MLIS, has been a special education teacher, school library media specialist, curriculum specialist and grants manager for several urban school districts in New York and Massachusetts for 30 years. As grants manager for 7 years, she managed up to $28,000,000 a year in federal, state, foundation and corporate grants from application through fiscal administration. She has hundreds of stories to tell, not all successes, but from each story there is a lesson to be learned.

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