A slice of the budget for helping students in career tech

A slice of the budget for helping students in career tech

(Mass.) In a move to support those students that might not be college-bound, Gov. Charlie Baker last week announced a series of new initiatives aimed at growing vocational-technical education programs in schools.

The proposal includes an $83.5 million budget recommendation, the bulk of which will provide  a new capital grant  to fund equipment upgrades necessary to operate the high-tech courses.

“With too many good-paying jobs going unfilled, we are pleased to announce this critical investment in our career and technical schools,” Baker said in a statement. “Our proposal will make it possible for more students to explore a pathway to success through stronger partnerships with our schools and local businesses in the Commonwealth.”

Funding for career technical education has been made more of a priority in many areas of the nation in the wake of the rollout of Common Core State Standards, which include a focus on curriculum that better prepares students for both college and career. In addition, according to research by the National Career and Technical Education Center, students who take two or more CTE courses are less likely to drop out of school.

Federal funding – mostly through the Carl Perkins State Grant program – for innovative, evidence-based CTE programs totals about $1.12 billion, according to the Association for Career and Technical Education, although the organization points out that this amount is still $5.4 million below pre-sequestration levels.

In the last two years alone, the California Legislature has approved $1.4 billion for two separate grant initiatives that will support career pathways and CTE programs through the 2017-18 school year. Utah includes in its 2016 education budget $126.3 million for a variety of CTE programs, and just this month, the Oregon Department of Education announced that 25 districts (covering 142 schools and 85,000 students) are splitting $9 million in state grants to improve and expand career education programs.   

The Massachusetts initiative announced last week would provide $75 million over five years for the new capital grant program to fund equipment to expand and improve CTE programs “that further align the administration’s investments with local economic and workforce development needs and employment partnerships,” the governor’s statement noted.

In addition, $7.5 million would go toward work-based learning grants, nearly doubling to $5.5 million support for school-to-career connecting activities. These funds would also double to $2 million support for Dual Enrollment programs to expand and replicate STEM-focused early college/career pathways, including middle school curriculum and workplace experience and learning.

The remaining $1 million, funded through the federal Perkins Act, would be put into a new Career Technical Partnership Grant aimed at strengthening relationships between vocational schools, comprehensive high schools and employers.

In announcing his CTE initiatives, Baker also unveiled a new study, produced by the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, that found the state’s dropout rate at vocational schools is 0.7 percent or nearly a third that of traditional public high schools, and that special education students’ graduation rates are 20 percent higher at regional vocational schools.

The report also found that vocational schools are about 50 percent more expensive to run than traditional schools because of the need for up-to-date equipment, and that the current funding structure puts regional vocational schools in a “fiscal straightjacket” as they compete for dollars against local public schools.

“Our efforts will significantly expand student access to high-quality career education programs in STEM fields, manufacturing and traditional trades, with a focus on underserved populations and communities,” James Peyser, Massachusetts secretary of education, said in the statement from the governor’s office.