Early, Strong Showing for CTE, Workforce Bills in State Legislatures

With nearly half of the state legislative sessions adjourned for the year, it’s time to take a look at how CTE is faring in statehouses across the country.

Starting in January, there were early indications that CTE would have a strong presence in the 2015 legislative sessions given its prominence in many gubernatorial budgets and State of the State addresses. In fact, by the time 46 governors had declared their legislative priorities for the year, CTE had appeared in some capacity in nearly half of these speeches and budgets with some devoting significant time to CTE and workforce development.

Then it was the lawmakers’ turn to get down to businesses. In some states, CTE champions emerged from bipartisan legislative coalitions and business groups to help bolster funding and support. (Note: These are just some of the highlights of state CTE activity so far in 2015, and are by no means all encompassing.)

  • Colorado’s 10-bill “Ready to Work” package was part of a bipartisan pledge from more than two dozen lawmakers to help those being left behind in the state’s fast-growing economy connect to training and education that can lead them to better jobs. In the end, the legislature sent eight bills to Gov. John Hickenlooper for signature. The bills establish incentives for advanced industry companies to create work-based learning opportunities, authorize a P-TECH school to be created, funds mobile learning labs that create training areas on-site for colleges and companies, and increase the number of career pathways in in-demand industries such as construction and health care.
  • State funding for K-12 CTE in Montana doubled to $2 million annually, thanks to the efforts of a group of legislators and local education leaders. The original bill proposed raising state funding to $10 million to make Montana’s CTE funding in line with nearby states.

There were also some major governance changes that would alter the way CTE and workforce development programs are delivered.

  • South Dakota lawmakers also passed a bill that would dramatically change the governance of the state’s four technical institutes – such as the one President Barack Obama visited last week. The current governing system, described as a turf war, has the technical institutes controlled by K-12 districts but funded by the state and competing with the Board of Regents, which governs the university system for students and course offerings. The new law will allow the institutes to establish their own governing body. A separate joint resolution, which will require an amendment to the state’s constitution and go before the voters in July, clarifies the roles of the institutes and the Board of Regents.
  • In Arkansas, new Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a series of three bills that made sweeping changes to career education and workforce training. The bills did the following: created the Career Education and Workforce Development Board to establish and administer a comprehensive statewide workforce education program as well as the Office of Skills Development to award $15 million in grants for workforce training programs; started a $2 million program to provide workforce training planning grants at community colleges; and established the Arkansas Workforce Development Board, which will be comprised of industry representatives.

Despite some notable CTE funding boosts, 22 states are reportedly facing budget deficits, according to a recent analysis from the Associated Press and the effects of tight budgets are being felt.

  • In Arizona, new Gov. Doug Ducey signed a “historically lean” state budget that cut universities dramatically, eliminated state aid for Pima and Maricopa Community Colleges and cut $30 million from the state’s Joint Technical Education Districts, which is the primary delivery system for Arizona secondary CTE programs.
  • Florida lawmakers wrapped up their session in early May without passing a budget – a first for the state – and thus leaving school districts in limbo. Gov. Rick Scott in March called for historic levels of K-12 funding, but as lawmakers reconvene in June to tackle the budget, it remains to be seen where it will land.

Andrea Zimmermann, State Policy Associate

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