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A Step Toward Strengthening Idaho’s Career-Techincal Education Programs

by Kristen McCarver

At Bluum, we aim to help Idaho’s children reach their fullest potential by cultivating great leaders and growing innovative schools. Through our experience of helping to open or expand high-performing schools throughout the state, we have learned some lessons about quality, leadership, and innovation. Recent research we’ve sponsored once again highlights the earnings gap between college graduates and those who don’t earn any post-secondary credentials. While idea of getting more students to and through college is mentioned frequently, a less discussed approach is to make a high school diploma worth more in the Boise area and across Idaho.

This week, our CEO, Terry Ryan was asked to share his experience as it relates to proposed legislation by Senator Lent, which aims to improve career-technical education throughout the state. Below is his testimony to the Senate Education Committee:

“For the record, I am Terry Ryan and I am speaking today to you in my role as Board Chair of the Idaho Charter School Network and CEO of the education non-profit Bluum.

I want to thank Senator Lent for sponsoring Senate Bill 1329 and for you taking it up. Last month Bluum funded a study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute entitled “Idaho’s Education Earnings Gap.” In that study, the Iowa State University economist John V. Winters reported that the average earnings differential between an Idahoan with just a high school diploma and one with a bachelor’s degree is about $32,000 a year. The earnings gap is even greater for residents of the Boise metro area with a holder of just a high school diploma earning $37,780 less annually than a college graduate.

Professor Winters went on to note that K-12 education in the Boise area “may not be providing the most valuable skills for students who skip college and go straight to work.” He went on to recommend that state and local policymakers, “take a serious look at how schools are preparing young people for the workforce and how they can do better.”

I believe Career Tech Education (CTE) has to be part of our strategy for doing better by our high school students who want to work hard, learn a marketable skill, and be able to pay for themselves and their families without having to go on to college or university. Both the Idaho Charter School Network and Bluum support the CTE efforts of groups like the public charter school Elevate Academy. Elevate was opened by veteran Caldwell educators Monica White and Matt Strong to provide at-risk students with the education and training necessary to graduate high school and walk into a job in the trades. They work closely with local manufacturers and employers to coordinate their in-school programs with the actual labor needs of local business. There are other efforts like Elevate being run by school districts and public charter schools, and more such efforts hoping to come on-line across the state in coming months and years.

Senate Bill 1329 should facilitate the work and growth of high-quality CTE programs because it will allow these programs to pay their CTE instructional staff more competitive salaries. Connecting pay to years of industry experience should help draw more talented craftsmen and craftswomen into our CTE programs and schools like Elevate. In speaking with CTE professionals about SB 1329, they also appreciate the flexibility in the issuance of career technical education certification to nontraditional candidates.

They would, however, value maximum flexibility in how the state ultimately defines allowable “educator training program or courses approved by the division of career technical education.” The LEAs I speak with that provide career tech would like to have the ability to grow and certify their own instructors or get as close to that option as possible.

I’ll end my testimony with a final comment from Professor Winters and the Fordham study. Winters concluded, “Students foregoing college need both applied practical skills to hit the ground running and basic skills.” Our CTE programs and schools need to be fully empowered, and have the resources necessary, to deliver productive employment opportunities for students who don’t go on after high school. SB 1329 is a real strong step in the right direction.”

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