Protecting career and tech ed this budget season

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Career and technical education is crucial to maintaining a strong American economy with well-paying jobs, but it cannot succeed on a "skinny" budget that provides insufficient funding. That was the message AFT President Randi Weingarten delivered to the Association for Career and Technical Education at its conference March 15 outside Washington, D.C.

Peoria CTE studentCareer and technical education centers, at high schools and community colleges, are no longer the simple automotive shops and cosmetology programs they used to be. Today, they partner with businesses to provide training and skills for careers as diverse as first responders, aerospace engineering, computer science, marine biology and culinary arts.

"You are the connective tissue to the economy," Weingarten told the room full of CTE educators, describing the importance of giving students options outside the traditional four-year academic college route and training them to take jobs in technology and the trades. Not only does CTE provide well-trained employees for the workforce, it can mean the difference between individual success and failure: "CTE programs routinely graduate more kids than other programs," she said.

But effective CTE can be expensive. Referring to President Donald Trump's anticipated slim budget proposal, Weingarten said, "A 'skinny' budget, will take a meat ax to Perkins Grants that fund CTE programs and professional development. We need more funding for more of what we know works": internships, high-quality equipment and a pipeline for CTE instructors. Without those supports, for-profit colleges could swoop in with inferior programs, exorbitant tuitions and false promises of secure jobs after graduation, she warned.

Weingarten is particularly concerned about the need for more CTE instructors. Finding them can be difficult when the private sector offers better pay and benefits, she said. "There's not a salary package that says we can pay you more than Google does."

"Grow-your-own" programs are one way to get at the problem. The United Federation of Teachers' 30-year-old Success Via Apprenticeship program in New York City is one: It partners with the New York City Department of Education and the City University of New York to guide CTE graduates through a five-year program of combined college classes and apprenticeships. The graduates then typically go on to teach in a New York City CTE program.

Weingarten also suggested targeting career switchers to improve the CTE instructor pipeline, emphasizing the importance of supplementing their content expertise with strong instruction in pedagogy.

The AFT is a longtime advocate of CTE and continues to support individual programs with its Innovation Fund. For example, an AFT partnership with city government, local businesses, high schools and colleges in Peoria, Ill., has created 20 student internships and a pathway for high school students to take college courses to advance their training. In Pittsburgh, a new academy is training students to be first responders like emergency medical technicians, firefighters and police officers.

Weingarten said she will continue to support these sorts of programs and fight for the funding they need, even when education budgets are tight. "Donald Trump said he loves voc-ed programs," she said. "We have to hold him accountable to that."

Watch a video about the Peoria CTE program.

[Virginia Myers]