Career and technical education struggles to keep up with demand

WASHINGTON — Graduation rates, skills training, and school engagement have all been positively affected by career and technical education programs. However, the accessibility of these programs has been hindered by limited funding, teacher shortages, and outdated stigmas, according to lawmakers and panelists speaking at a House subcommittee hearing on Thursday.

“The college-for-all mentality has created a stigma around trades careers and limited student options,” said Danny Corwin, executive director of Harbor Freight Tools for Schools, a nonprofit organization that supports skilled trade education in high schools.

“While the goal of increasing college access is commendable, it has unintentionally closed off opportunities for students who may choose a different path,” Corwin added.

During the House subcommittee hearing on Early Childhood, Elementary, and Secondary Education, several participants emphasized that high school options should no longer be framed as a career-or-college scenario.[1]

“We need career and technical education programs that are available to all students, regardless of whether they pursue a four-year degree or an industry-recognized credential,” said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon.

Kelly Mosley, CTE supervisor for Florida’s Clay County District Schools, highlighted the district’s work-based learning opportunities that benefit both college-bound and career-bound students. The district offers 33 programs in various career clusters for approximately 11,000 students.

For example, one high school in the district has an on-site child care center that helps students prepare for entry-level positions in child care or pursue college courses in early childhood or elementary education. Another high school has an on-site credit union that provides internships and experience in business management, human resources, finance, marketing, and customer service.

Students at Orange Park Junior High in Florida’s Clay County School District practice their engineering skills through the district’s CTE program.
Permission granted by Clay County School District

Richard Kincaid, senior executive director of college and career pathways for the Maryland State Department of Education, discussed the state’s mandate for all high school graduates to earn an industry-recognized credential or complete a registered apprenticeship program by the 2030-31 school year.

“This mandate necessitates the rapid expansion of industry-aligned apprenticeship opportunities in both the industry sector and our schools,” Kincaid explained.

Mosley and other speakers emphasized the increasing integration of complex technologies like artificial intelligence and robotics into various industries. They stressed the need for specific skills training to meet the demands of the workforce.

However, the obstacles to greater access to career and technical education programs could impede these efforts.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 98% of public schools provided CTE classes to high school students during the 2016-17 school year. The federal funding for CTE through the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act has gradually increased over the past decade and reached $1.5 billion in fiscal year 2023.

During the 2020-21 school year, a reported 8.3 million high school students participated in CTE programs, with the most common pathways being health science, agriculture, food and natural resources, business management, administration and arts, and audiovisual technology and communications.

While the federal funding is beneficial, the panelists noted that it is still insufficient. Furthermore, CTE programs require teachers who hold credentials and possess field experience and technical training.

The panelists stressed the importance of collaboration among school systems, businesses, and industry leaders to develop creative solutions for providing workplace skills training, apprenticeships, transportation to these programs, and equitable access to rigorous curriculum.

“As a country, we consistently underestimate the value of this type of education,” said Subcommittee Chair Aaron Bean, R-Florida.

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