Calls to Increase Funding for Vocational-technical High Schools
By Colin A. Young
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- Lawmakers, a former top Baker administration and city manager, and a one-time lieutenant governor joined advocates Monday to call for an increase in funding for vocational-technical education and passage of a bill to expand access to those programs.
The Alliance for Vocational Technical Education said that 20 percent of Massachusetts high school students are enrolled in a career and technical education (CTE) program, but that 3,200 students across the state are on waiting lists to get into such programs, which focus on career training.
Massachusetts Competitive Partnership CEO Jay Ash said the business leaders he talks to “all have the same thing to say” when he asks them about the future of their business and the state’s economy.
“It’s not about taxes, it’s not about regulations. It’s about workforce,” said Ash, the former state economic development secretary. “We are in a great period of time here in the commonwealth where we have more people working than ever before ... and yet employers large and small throughout the commonwealth are saying the same thing: ‘We need more employees, we need more trained employees, we need more of the natural resource that is Massachusetts to fuel our business and support the economy as it continues to expand.’”
The alliance -- which is made up of business groups, educational organizations, and civic groups -- is pressing for increased Chapter 70 and Chapter 74 local aid for schools with CTE programs, and for the passage of HD 3279, a bill which the alliance said would support the expansion of CTE programs and direct the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to appoint a deputy commissioner for CTE.
“The goals align,” Ash said. “Businesses, desperate for employees, and students and parents who see vocational education as a way of moving themselves into higher-earning, better quality jobs that are as exciting as any around the commonwealth.”
Tim Murray, the former lieutenant governor and current CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said the lobby day is “an opportunity to make the case to key decision makers about the urgent need to eliminate the waiting list across the state of students looking to attend our vocational-technical and agricultural schools.”
Murray also got to be the bearer of good news as he kicked off Monday morning’s advocacy day.
“Word has come from the administration that one of the items that the Alliance for Voc Tech Education has been advocating for, which is $1 million for funding to continue our planning and implementation grants for dual collaborations ... that there’s a million dollars in funding planned for that in the upcoming year,” he told the assembled school administrators and advocates.
The $1 million in funding is expected to come via the federal Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006, and DESE said the grants are intended to “support regional and local partnerships to expand existing and/or develop new CTE programs and initiatives that increase student access to CTE opportunities, primarily through more effective use and integration of existing capacity and resources.”
The grant funding will be used, advocates said, to expand partnerships between traditional high schools and vocational schools in an attempt to serve some of the kids currently waiting to get into a CTE program.
Sen. Eric Lesser, the Senate chair of the Economic Development and Emerging Technologies Committee, said vocational education gives students a pathway to middle-class jobs in fields like precision manufacturing and carpentry.
He told the story of his grandfather, a tool and die maker who learned his trade in the U.S. Merchant Marine and was able to raise a family on the wage he earned. Lesser said there are thousands of jobs available right now in the fields of precision and high-tech manufacturing, and said funding vocational education is “one of the most cost-effective ways for us to create jobs right now, locally.”
“In Western Mass. in particular, we have seen an absolute renaissance in advanced manufacturing and precision machining ... They’re all fueled by our CTE schools, by our vocational and our technical education,” he said.
Lesser ticked off a half-dozen companies in and around his district that have been making strides in advanced manufacturing -- and that will need scores of highly-skilled and trained workers.
“The reason those companies have been based here, the reason why they are growing here is because we have a CTE and [vocational edication] system that is the envy of the entire country,” he said. “We also know that when you have a good thing you often need more of it, and there is now a massive waitlist of thousands and thousands of students across Massachusetts ... who are desperate to get into these programs.”
Lesser said “we know what’s going to happen” if Massachusetts does not continue to boost its vocational education offerings while other states pump money into programs to train students for jobs in advanced manufacturing and similar fields.
“Those companies are going to move elsewhere, they’re going to move to other places where states are making those investments and are making those big decisions to invest in their workforce,” he said.
Last month, after General Electric announced plans to reimburse $87 million in state incentives it received when it was going to build a new world headquarters in Boston, Lesser filed a bill (SD 2298) that would redirect that returned money to support the state’s vocational schools.
“We have thousands of available positions in high-paying fields in every corner of our state that are going unfilled because of the backlog at our career and technical training centers,” he said last month. “Instead of giving massive tax breaks and incentives to corporations, which will likely park those payments on Wall Street, let’s invest that money in our local workforce and support the families and businesses that are already here and are looking for work.”