Baker Wants $83mil for Vocational Education in Massachusetts

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Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has suggested an additional $83.5 million be used for vocational education in the state, with $75 million for a five-year capital program in a jobs bill that will be filed this week and an added $8.5 million for the annual budget.

Both of the measures will require legislative approval, and finances are currently tight in the state. But Baker is hopeful that the legislature will see the importance of investing in vocational education. The $75 million would finance grants for school expansion and equipment.

The $8.5 million would fund grants for “school-to-career connecting activities.” An additional $1 million would be used for technical partnership grants sustained by the federal Perkins Act grants.

Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce President Tim Murray, a former lieutenant governor, visited 64 vocational-technical education programs and said there are at least 3,000 people waiting to enroll in vocational curricula. A study released last week found that one-third of the state’s towns and cities do not have vocational-tech education resources, reports Andy Metzger of The Sun.

The study, provided by the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, showed that vocational schools’ dropout rates amount to 0.7%, and almost one-third of traditional public high schools and special education students’ rates of graduation are 20% higher at regional vocational-tech schools.

The launch of the Alliance for Vocational and Technical Education was announced by a group of business associations and others. A variety of organizations gathered, such as the think tanks Pioneer Institute and MassINC, along with Massachusetts Competitive Partnership and the interfaith Massachusetts Communities Action Network.

“These are high skills, critical skills, and the jobs associated with them can really move the needle in a big way for families, for communities and for the Commonwealth,” Gov. Charlie Baker said. “This is a huge opportunity for us to do a lot of good things for a lot of people. It’s a win-win-win that you don’t see all that often.”

According to Jordan Graham of The Boston Herald, Jack Livramento, a member of the New Bedford School Committee and the MA Communities Action Network, stated that the over 3,000 students on waiting lists for vocational schools are joined by many more students who wish to attend, but that many students do not even know there are such waiting lists.

Tatyana Foskey, who attends the Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School, is learning how to become a wastewater technician. She adds that the path she has taken made all the difference.

Baker was joined in developing these initiatives by Secretary of Education James Peyser, Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development Ronald Walker II, and Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash, who became the Governor’s Workforce Skills Cabinet. The group was organized in February of 2015 by executive order.

Peyser pointed out that:

“Massachusetts has some of the strongest career-technical programs in the country, at both the high school and college levels, but access and quality are uneven across the commonwealth, and there’s currently little alignment across education levels, Our efforts will significantly expand student access to high-quality career education programs in STEM fields, manufacturing and traditional trades, with a focus on underserved populations and communities.”

Walker stated that the initiatives include engagement of Massachusetts employers as partners in the design of programs and their implementation, writes Susan Petroni for the Framington Patch. The plans include expanding STEM-focused career development by creating more early programs that lead to college enrollment and increasing the number of students who have already obtained real life work experience when they graduate from high school.