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Efforts to Support Career-Technical Ed. Ramp Up With New Plans

Although the emphasis in many high schools is around creating pathways to a four-year college, several news items this week point to a renewed recognition of the value of career-technical education.

On Wednesday, the Mississippi Economic Council announced that it will sponsor of a new Mississippi Scholars Tech Master program to recognize high school seniors who pass a career-certification test, maintain a 2.5 grade point average, score 18 of higher on the ACT, and complete 40 hours of community service.

The program would complement the existing Mississippi Scholars program, which recognizes high school seniors who achieve certain standards in college-preparatory curriculum. The hope is to raise money at the local level for scholarships to give the Tech Master students, just as is done with the regular scholars program, according to a story in the Associated Press. The new program will be piloted in seven Mississippi counties this year with plans to expand to other schools systems eventually.

In Oregon, 140 schools will share nearly $9 million that the state legislature recently allotted for career and technical education programs. In 2011, lawmakers agreed that $2 million should be used to return vocational programs to 21 middle and high schools, according to another AP story this week. The expenditure was quadrupled by the legislature in 2013, the story explains, with officials citing the need for a skilled workforce with training in science, technology, math, engineering and well as student access to shop classes.

Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, a Democratic candidate for governor called for more state and private money for vocational-technical education programs to help close the "skills gap" between what schools deliver and what employers need, another Associated Press story explains. Candidate Steve Grossman calls for updating vocational schools with technology grants and providing college students with more internships and workplace experiences.

West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in a speech on Wednesday highlighted the need for skilled STEM workers and called for increased support for career and technical schools. His proposed budget would support placing math and English teachers in career centers to minimize obstacles for our students who pursue a career-technical education. In addition, the governor is proposing to spend $500,000 to expand the state's Advanced Career program, which helps students pursuing a technical career to get the knowledge and skills to be successful in the workforce, he said. 

In an interview today, Kimberly Green, the executive director of the National Association of State Directors of Career Technical Education Consortium, said there is political momentum behind career technical education programs.

"Clearly, the economy pushed this into the spotlight," she said. "We have a mismatch between what we are preparing people for and what the jobs of the economy require."

Recent data reinforce that even with high unemployment, many skilled jobs going unfulfilled. At the same time, research has come out showing 90 percent high school graduation rates among students in CTE programs. This has given policymakers a reason to give CTE a "second look," especially at the state level, Green added.

For more on state activity in this space, see the State CTE Policy Update blog on the website of the consortium.

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