High schools statewide could get a $1,000 credit for each student who receives a technical education certificate under a plan unveiled Monday by Gov. Sam Brownback.
His proposal would send $20.5 million to the Kansas Department of Education and the Kansas Board of Regents to pay for student tuition, transportation, marketing of technical education opportunities and the $1,000-per-certificate incentives to high schools. But it would also eliminate the formula-based vocational education money school districts get currently, although Brownback said an equivalent amount is spent through his proposal.
The proposal comes as the number of Kansas high school students who complete technical education programs dwindles. In the 2007-08 school year, 13,788 students completed certified programs. That number fell steadily to 9,292 last year, according to numbers provided by Brownback’s administration.
Brownback said he doesn’t have any projections about how many more students would be likely to get technical education certificates under his plan, but he added the program would be considered successful if numbers increase.
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The plan calls for the state to help pay tuition for high school students enrolled in career and technical education at a community or technical college. It also would help provide those students with transportation to take those classes.
“That’s the state putting their money where their mouth is,” said Joe Onjtes, marketing director at Wichita Area Technical College.
He said he was encouraged that the governor recognized the importance of career and technical education in today’s workplace. “It has evolved,” Onjtes said. “It’s not necessarily the old-school, low-tech vo-tech understanding that many people have in their minds. Today’s technical education is very high-tech, high-wage.”
Among top technical occupations in Kansas are welding, automotive, aircraft mechanics, nurses, computer support specialists, dental hygienists and industrial maintenance technicians.
Although the number of high school students enrolled in technical education has dropped significantly the past few years, WATC is seeing a different trend for the 75 programs it offers. A record 3,400 students seeking credit were enrolled in the college during the fall semester, Onjtes said.
Brownback has said for months that he wants more students to graduate from high school ready for the workplace or equipped with skills that will provide higher-paying jobs to pay their way through college.
“In our future as a state, 60 percent of our jobs, that’s a rough number, are going to require a technical skill,” he said.
Companies say they want more technically trained workers, and some businesses may step forward with funding for such education programs, the governor said.
Asked whether the program would be open to students who are not legally in the country, Brownback and other officials said they didn’t think so but hadn’t discussed it and didn’t know for sure.
Agricultural education programs don’t offer a traditional certificate; Brownback said that existing program will continue uninterrupted.
Sen. Jean Schodorf, R-Wichita, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said she agrees with encouraging technical training, and she said the plan has potential and a lot of support in the business community.
But she said the plan represents a huge amount of money at a time when lawmakers have significantly cut education funding.
“It’s just a lot of money at this time,” she said.
Brownback also proposed increasing funding for community and vocational colleges to cover the additional costs of providing technical education courses. The money would be awarded based on the costs to provide classes, with more for computer-aided courses than traditional technical courses, in so-called tiered financing.
The governor wants to spend $46.9 million more in the 2012 budget and $54.9 million in 2013 on tiered classes. He recommends $79.8 million for non-tiered, non-technical classes in 2012 and 2013.
Sen. Steve Abrams, R-Arkansas City, a former State Board of Education member, said he hopes the proposal passes. He has proposed revising the school finance formula to put greater emphasis on technical education.
“We need it. The students need it. The parents need it. I mean, it’s a win-win-win situation, if we can get certain things done,” he said.
Jim Means, executive director of career and technical education for the Wichita school district, said it’s difficult to say how the governor’s plan would affect local schools. Much would depend on how the state defined "technical education certificate," he said.
About 125 high school students this year are working toward certificates, Means said. They include emergency medical technician, certified nurse assistant and OSHA safety certificates. A handful of students also are working toward pharmacy tech certificates through the district’s online school.
A $1,000-per-student bonus would be "a significant boost" to career and technical education funds at those high schools, Means said.
Contributing: Rick Plumlee and Suzanne Tobias of The Eagle, and the Associated Press