Oklahoma Career Tech Advocates Return To US Capitol

Wednesday, March 23rd 2022, 9:23 pm


With cases of COVID-19 continuing to decline and the United States Capitol again welcoming advocacy groups into House and Senate office buildings, members of the Oklahoma Association for Career and Technical Education (OkACTE) were back in the nation's capital this week for the first time since 2019.

"We're here for the national policy seminar," said OkACTE President Kristal Sack in an interview Tuesday, "and there's representation from all 50 states -- Oklahoma has the largest showing, with 23 members."

Sack, who is Director of Marketing at Tulsa Tech, said about 300 people in total came for the hybrid three-day event, which wraps up Wednesday. She said, in the world of Career Tech, Oklahoma is acknowledged to have one of the top systems in the country, in part because of the way it's funded.

"We are our own silo," Sack explained, "versus other states where career-technical education falls under higher education. We have our own department, our own director and we are able to really turn on a dime to meet the workforce needs in the state of Oklahoma."

A key goal of all participants this week was to continue to advocate for so-called 'Perkins' funds. Named in 1984 for Kentucky Congressman Carl Perkins, a strong advocate for Career and Technical Education (CTE), Perkins funds are the primary source of federal CTE dollars.

"Perkins funding helps our K-12 programs that are found in our high school and our middle school programs, as well as our technology centers," said Brooke Kusche, a past president of OkACTE and a counselor at Autry Technical Center in Enid. "We are again asking [members] to continue funding Perkins because the budget is going to come out next week from the president."

Oklahoma received more than $16 million in Perkins funding in FY 2020, according to the Perkins Collaborative Resource Network. 85 percent of the grant is allocated locally.

The return of associations and lobbying groups like OkACTE is a welcome change for members.

"We’ve done zoom meetings and we’ve done phone calls," said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), "but it’s been good to be able to actually see people that want to be able to come."

Sen. Lankford met with members of the Oklahoma group Tuesday afternoon. He said workforce development is the number one concern he hears about from Oklahoma businesses.

"What the career techs are doing is trying to be able to meet that need and it’s extremely important they continue to be able to advance their work because every employer in Oklahoma is counting on them doing a good job," Lankford said in an interview Wednesday.