Indiana Introduces New Career Scholarships to Lower Student Expenses and Offer Training Options

Last year, Deven Bounds, a high school senior, would have had to spend more than $1,000 of his own money on tools for his construction apprenticeship at Grant Regional Career Center in Marion, Indiana.

Fortunately, new career scholarship accounts created by the state legislature have significantly reduced costs for Bounds and other Indiana students in career training programs.

Bounds and 13 classmates from the ABC Construction Prep Academy are among 1,000 students in the state who have received $5,000 scholarships. These scholarships cover the costs of career training and additional expenses such as tool belts, hammers, squares, and eye guards – which were previously out-of-pocket expenses for students.

“I feel like I would still be able to get things done without the scholarship, but it definitely helps me get better tools,” Bounds said.

Indiana will allocate approximately $5 million this school year to provide scholarships for the first 1,000 10th, 11th, and 12th grade students who qualify. Next year, $10 million will be allocated to support 2,000 students.

The career scholarship accounts are part of two major initiatives. Similar to “Education Savings Accounts” in other states, they give students the flexibility to attend private schools. Additionally, the scholarships align with Indiana’s mission to enhance high school education by providing more career exposure and training opportunities to students.

Similar to Education Savings Accounts, which provide families with funds to use at schools of their choice, Career Scholarship Accounts allow students to use state tax dollars to pay for job training at private training sites or local public vocational schools.

State Rep. Chuck Goodrich, one of the sponsors of the bill, hopes that these scholarships will provide more hands-on learning experiences for students and allow them to earn career credentials while still in high school.

“We want our students to graduate not only with a diploma but also with a credential, a currency they can take with them,” he said.

In addition to allowing students to choose their training sites, Goodrich and other elected Republicans hope that businesses and other non-profit training programs will grow or be added with the availability of state funding. Industries may develop their training programs to address skills they believe local schools do not adequately teach, with the state covering the students’ attendance costs.

There are concerns, however, that the scholarships will simply provide funds to businesses, including Goodrich’s company, to cover training expenses that are typically part of operating costs.

Despite the concerns, proponents of these scholarships believe that they could reduce the dependency of some small non-profit pilot programs on donations and potentially support their expansion.

Goodrich believes that high schools, career technical education programs, and private trainers are all valuable partners in making training a common part of high school education.

“We are going to need all of them to skill up our workforce,” he said.

To prevent the scholarships from solely becoming a business subsidy, one key aspect is to offer direct assistance to students for needs such as uniforms, books, tools, and transportation in the form of transit passes or gas cards. This support can eliminate barriers that low-income students face when pursuing job skills training.

Jason Bearce, vice president of education and workforce development at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, stated that these scholarships provide flexible funding for expenses that were previously not supported by the state.

Republican State Sen. Brian Buchanan praised the scholarship proposal as a step toward addressing the primary need voiced by businesses for skilled employees.

However, Career Technical Education centers within the state are critical of the program. They already provide training for multiple fields as part of standard public high schools and question the need to pay private trainers to duplicate their efforts.

Details such as which training providers qualify, which expenses the scholarships cover, and the expected value for students from the scholarships are still being developed by the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet, the state treasurer, and the Indiana Commission for Higher Education.

Although scholarships have been awarded to certain programs this fall, there is uncertainty about the impact and allocation of scholarship funds. The 74 attempted to speak with students from various programs but was unsuccessful. Training programs mentioned that the scholarships are too new to determine how the funds will be used and provided vague promises of enhanced training.

The 74 also requested information on how scholarships are being used for transportation, but no examples were available. Some programs indicated that students do not fully understand these new scholarships.

One program that could not provide clear answers was Gaylor Electric, an electrical contractor where Rep. Goodrich is the CEO. The potential value of the scholarships to his company raised controversy during the bill’s debate. Goodrich claimed that he did not consider whether his company would receive funds when drafting the bill.

State Rep. Bob Behning, chair of the House Education Committee, acknowledged the confusion and lack of clear benefits for students thus far. However, he remains optimistic that this initial year with limited providers and scholarships will serve as a learning experience. Behning expects a more comprehensive offering by next year.

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