Finance reform without accountability could devastate career tech

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Under the current K-12 public education system in California, programs that are not required, measured, or explicitly funded by the state will disappear from our schools. Elective courses are becoming victims of educational policy that only recognizes “success” as defined by scores on standardized tests in courses mandated for graduation or college admission. Since that’s all that is really measured, that’s all that will really matter.

The ongoing state budget deficit and the lack of financial incentives to support programs outside of the mandated core academics will undoubtedly force districts to abandon such electives with impunity. This is our concern with  the “Weighted Student Formula” (WSF) proposal. Because the latest version of education finance reform doesn’t alter the current approach to accountability, we fear WSF will accelerate an already alarming narrowing of the curriculum.

In areas like career technical education (CTE), the impact of this well-intended reform could be devastating. Without incentives provided to districts to support these elective programs, there is simply no reason for them to do so. If you doubt that scenario, just examine the impact of the “flexibility” provisions granted to districts for programs like ROPs, Adult Education, and others since 2009 under the state budget. Given the unfettered authority to “flex” the use of these funds for any purpose, districts have obliterated Adult Ed throughout the state, and have put undue pressure on the vast majority of ROPs to survive on a starvation diet. Without  appropriate educational policies that hold districts accountable for truly meeting the needs of all students, this scenario will hold true for programs outside of the “required” or “measured” mandate. That’s not a recipe for success.

From a purely budgetary perspective, distributing CTE dollars without any vocational accountability upon schools makes little sense either. The three CTE-related categoricals most at risk under WSF  leverage every dollar the state invests. The Ag Incentive Grant requires local districts to match each state dollar (requiring districts to provide an extensive, annual report on the use of those precious state dollars). Apprenticeships are largely funded by contractors and unions, thereby stretching each state dollar invested in these “learn while you earn” programs. And Partnership Academies require both a local and industry match for each state dollar, magnifying the state’s investment threefold. Simply sending out these dollars on an per-student basis without any vocational strings 0r leveraged match requirements will cause more harm to education under any calculation.

We hope the governor and the Legislature take the time necessary to develop solutions to protect career technical education programs while also achieving education finance reform. Given the challenges facing these programs at the local level, we know our schools will not continue to support career technical education without the incentives to do so.

Jack Stewart is President of the California Manufacturers & Technology Association. He also co-chairs Get REAL (www.getrealca.org), a coalition of labor, employers, teachers, and other organizations committed to protecting and enhancing access to Career Technical Education in California schools.

6 Comments

  1. Over the last few decades, vocational training has come into and gone out of vogue in the K-12 public education system.
    There are a large number of High School students that either are not college ready academically or financially or that are simply not interested in college.
    In California, maybe the answer is to connect the K-12 public education system and the Community College system. Many Community Colleges offer voc tech classes. If High Schools collaborated with Community College districts, they could coordinate the facilitation of not only voc tech classes, but also other classes such as career exploration and work-study.

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  2. In my county, the word “incentive” is not reflecting our local attitude: recently representatives from most of the districts plus the community college met to celebrate and discuss the importance of CTE. We have thriving Ag programs, strong connections with the community college, some great culinary and medical tech and welding and construction options. There are some outstanding computer classes. One of the schools is doing rocketry and sending video cameras up into the stratosphere. The community college and the nearby high school already have cooperative agreements to share facilities back and forth.
     
    So our issue here isn’t that we won’t keep them if the state doesn’t make us. Our issue is that we’re terrified that we won’t be able to find any money *anywhere* in order to fund them under some of the new budget schemes. These are programs that are working, holding student interest and preparing them for local careers.

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  3. Jack’s concern for CTE (and further curricular narrowing) is spot on. That is why it is heartening that some thoughtful policymakers (Steinberg and Hancock come to mind) are pursuing accountability reforms to better measure a school’s performance in serving real student (and employer/labor) needs. SB 1458 and SB 275 are two of these worthy endeavors. Until such measures see the light of law, WSF is premature (and even dangerous to the best interest of students).

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  4. I was thinking “rocketry” (and I think they did some) but they worked with weather balloons to reach the stratosphere. It’s being run through the afterschool program (afterschool programs can be leveraged for some interesting, meaty electives!) Here are two great videos from the Boonville Space Program:
     
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/989093552/the-boonville-space-program-eclipse-2012-mission
     
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lml2Td_mhKM&feature=relmfu
    Skip to around 8:30 for the stratosphere experiment, which involved a video camera, a GPS, temperature monitoring, and a successful retrieval. At 15 minutes in, you can see some of the flight footage, and at the very end, the camera was still running when it was found by some very surprised hunters. :-)

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  5. Since my comment with links is still awaiting moderation, you can find videos of the really cool space instrumentation afterschool project by googling “Boonville Space Program.” :-)

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