By Nick Harper and Tim Knue
Providing our high school students with a better variety of possible career paths and higher education opportunities is vital to creating a brighter future for our youth and making Washington state more competitive.
Preparing today’s students for future professional careers is certainly critical. At the same time, we must offer a variety of viable paths forward for students who are not directly college-bound after high school, so they too can learn a trade and be better prepared to enter the workforce upon graduation.
Career-connected learning is especially important given the shortages of skilled workers facing the home-building industry and other key sectors, including advanced manufacturing, clean energy, information technology, maritime and health care, among others. Despite these worker shortages and the strong need for vocational training, funding for career and technical education (CTE) and skills centers has been deficient in Washington state schools in recent years.
Fortunately, before adjourning for the year, the Legislature took a significant step forward by approving CTE funding as part of the 2017-19 state budget. Specifically, there will be a $200 million investment over the next four years to reduce CTE class sizes to a maximum of 23 students per class in schools and 20 students per class in skills centers. Additionally, CTE dollars are being moved to a categorical fund, meaning school districts will be required to spend this money on CTE and not for other purposes, as was previously the case.
The budget also increases the state salary allocation to pay all teachers, including CTE teachers fully. The budget also provides additional funding for CTE directors in all districts, which is necessary to maintain existing oversight and, over time, gradually grow program offerings. Districts may also pay up to 10 percent additional salary for those teaching science, technology, engineering and math. The state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is offering additional grants for equipment purchases, as well.
Thanks to CTE leaders in the Legislature and advocates who worked tirelessly for these changes, CTE now has a much more predictable funding stream. This investment is significant because it will strengthen CTE programs in school districts throughout the state, improving their ability to provide hands-on, vocational training and work experience for students and connect them with jobs.
Lawmakers should be commended for acting on this critical funding need and approving a budget that will strengthen CTE throughout the state. This is an important win for industries that stand to benefit from having a pool of trained workers from which they can hire. And it is a win for students seeking alternative career paths from those requiring a college degree.
Ultimately, it is also a win for Washington’s economy.
With the funding source approved and a renewed focus on CTE established, the important work of implementation can now begin. Ramping up our CTE programs will not come without challenges, however. Teacher recruitment and training will be needed. At a time when our skilled workforce is lean and regional demand is at a record high, this will not be easy. This opportunity calls for close collaboration between the business sector and school districts to revitalize CTE programs.
Furthermore, now begins the work of establishing classroom learning opportunities that translate to career-connected learning, such as apprenticeships and internships, and eventually job placements. A key measure of our success will be our ability to create an efficient, effective and clear path to the workforce.
All parties involved in this effort will need to work cooperatively to ensure successful implementation. Our students deserve to have a successful career technical program that works for them. At the same time, industries are looking for a program that will help develop our future workforce. And if done right, all Washingtonians can realize the benefits of a stronger economy that supports a variety of business sectors, creating a brighter future for all.
Nick Harper is senior director of strategy and policy at the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. Tim Knue is the executive director at the Washington Association for Career and Technical Education.