Nation’s largest commitment to career tech set for take off

Nation’s largest commitment to career tech set for take off

(Calif.) While boasting the nation’s largest investment in career readiness programs, backers of the California Career Pathways Trust warned earlier this week that the window of opportunity to make a more permanent imprint may be narrow.

 

Although this year’s state budget allocated an unprecedented $250 million for school-to-work grants to K12 and community college districts, supporters warned future funding is not guaranteed.

 

“Even though the state has a healthy surplus and it’s anticipated there’s going to be a significant amount of Prop 98 money, the competition for that money is going to be intense,” said state Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, architect of the career tech grant program.

 

Speaking at a seminar in Sacramento, Steinberg said that applicants will need to submit impressive applications if they want to keep lawmakers’ attention and keep the funds flowing.

 

“If we see lead industries step up in collaboration with school districts, with high schools and show what they intend to do with $5 [million] or $10 million to establish these pathways and we can demonstrate that we are beginning to change the culture not just within the public education system but within industry as well and that we’re oversubscribed, that is going to provide a great argument,” he said.

 

A highlight in last summer’s budget agreement, the Legislature’s financial commitment to the Career Pathways Trust is the largest such investment of any state in the nation and is two-and-a-half times the recent federal appropriation of $100 million for the entire nation to fund career and technical education.

 

The ‘request for applications’ is not expected to be released by the California Department of Education until next month, but the plan is to begin awarding grants sometime in the spring.

 

The Sacramento event was the first of three Pathways to Prosperity Institutes held around the state this week – all of which drew capacity crowds. The events, sponsored by statewide education and workforce organizations, featured panel discussions about opportunities under the Career Pathways Trust and workshops on designing and implementing career pathway programs for high school and community college students.

 

Sacramento speakers pointed to two successful school-to-work programs currently underway in California:  the Linked Learning pilot program and the California Partnership Academies, which boasts a 95 percent high school graduation rate for its students.

 

Resources provided by the Career Pathways Trust are intended to expand these programs to reach more students and regional economies around the state.

 

“If you don’t have an academic portfolio with degrees and credentials and you don’t have a work resume with work experience by your early 20s, you are in very deep trouble in this economy,” said Robert Schwartz, an institute panelist and professor of practice emeritus at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

 

The economic recession California has been slowly emerging from has highlighted the need for better workforce preparation for the state’s younger population, said Lupita Cortez Alcalá, a deputy superintendent of public instruction at the state Department of Education.

 

“I think it’s a perfect storm because we’re just coming out of a recession where it’s become blatantly clear that not only adults but young people don’t have the job skills they need,” she said. In addition, new standards for English language arts, math, science and career education put California in a position of strength for expanding its school to work programs.

 

The way schools in California are evaluated is changing, too, Cortez Alcalá added. The State Board of Education is at work developing new measures of career readiness to be included in the Academic Performance Index.

 

Currently, the API relies solely on test scores to measure and rank schools’ achievement, but eventually is likely to include additional measures such as dropout rates, attendance rates, numbers of graduates going on to college, and levels of certification or licensure in industry. It is hoped that the revised API will incentivize educators to focus on better preparing students for the work world.

 

Where current school-to-work programs need to make progress is in engaging the employer community, said Tim Rainey, executive director of the California Workforce Investment Board.  And employers, he said, need to make a substantial contribution to the process.

 

“You all have to stop complaining about the skills gap,” he said, referring to employers, “and actually come to the table and invest in these things. Help us understand the skills that are required along a pathway; help us identify and create the kinds of certifications and credentials that can be stacked so people can move along a career pathway and get a good job now but a better job later.”