The Arizona Legislature’s budget cuts in 2011 and in this session have reduced state funding for career and technical education by more than 53 percent, hurting programs developing high school students into a skilled workforce local businesses and industries need.
“The cuts have severely hurt our ability to provide education to all high school students,” said Dr. John Mulcahy, director of professional development for West-MEC and past president of Association for Career and Technical Education of Arizona. “This should be problematic to everyone concerned about education because we know that CTE’s impact on students is both significant and positive.”
“We know that CTE students are more likely to come to school every day, more likely to graduate from high school, more likely to go on postsecondary education and more likely to persist in postsecondary education,” Mulcahy said.
Infographic by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews
At the end of the 2011 session, Arizona legislators had to make a choice between cutting $29 million from charter schools or Joint Technical Education Districts and those cuts to JTEDs removed funding for freshmen, said Diane McCarthy, director business partnerships, government, public policy and legislation for West-MEC.
At that time, the largest group enrolled in CTE classes were freshman, because their schedules were more open than juniors and seniors who are trying to fit in required classes before graduation.
“The loss of freshman funding means that fewer freshman participate in CTE, which makes it more difficult to impact the graduation rate and academic achievement for those students,” said Tina Norton, assistant superintendent and chief operations officer for Pima County Joint Technical Education District.
Initially, the loss of freshman funding had minimal impact on Mountain Institute JTED which was brand new, “since that time however, we have experienced a significant decrease in student enrollments in CTE and JTED programs in Yavapai County,” said Jeramy Plumb, superintendent of Mountain Institute JTED in Yavapai County.
“When you remove an elective option such as JTED during the freshman year, it forces students to choose other elective options which reduces the opportunities complete CTE and JTED programs,” Plumb said. “In addition, we are finding that many of these students lose interest in school and often fall farther and farther behind since they see little relevance to the academic content they are learning. It really becomes problematic for everyone.”
In Massachussetts, vocational high schools start in ninth grade and allow students to begin exploring different career options then, said Bill Symonds, director of Arizona State University’s Global Pathways Institute.
“It’s something not being provided to students in Arizona. Right there, you’re falling behind,” Symonds said. “That’s important because many students who drop out, drop out between ninth and tenth grade. You’re losing them before you can engage them.”
From fiscal years 2009-2013, the budget funded state aid for JTEDs at 91 percent of the full formula amount, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. In fiscal 2014, state aid for East Valley Institute of Technology, Pima County JTED and West-MEC was set at 91 percent of the full formula amount and all other JTEDs at 100 percent, according to the JLBC report.
As a result, state funding for JTEDs was $23 million less in fiscal year 2015 than it was in FY 2011. JTEDs with more than 2,000 students were funded at 95.5 percent of what would otherwise be provided by law.
The budget state legislators passed in March will permanently reduce per-pupil base funding that charters or districts receive for students enrolled in JTED courses or satellite programs to 92.5 percent of what they would have otherwise received starting in fiscal year 2017. That would be a $26 million cut in JTED funding.
“Our greatest challenge in CTE and JTEDs statewide is the pending cuts set to take effect in fiscal year 2017,” Plumb said. “These cuts will devastate rural CTE/JTED programs, who will receive the greatest impact of all due the their size and demographics.”
In many of our rural schools and communities, the CTE/JTED programs are the only electives that have not been cut from the school curriculum, Plumb said.
“We are exceptionally worried about schools like Ash Fork, Seligman, and Mayer who had limited or no CTE programs prior the formation of Mountain Institute, each of which may be forced to close their programs if the approved cuts indeed go into effect,” Plumb said. “This will have a devastating effect on these rural schools and communities, leaving little or no other elective options for students in these schools. In addition, it is certain that even our larger schools will be significantly impacted by the proposed cuts.”
These cuts essentially decrease funding for students taking JTED classes by about $400 per student, according to Calvin Baker, superintendent of Vail School District.
“It’s a very counterproductive strategy if our goal is creating jobs and putting people to work creating a more successful Arizona,” Symonds said. “It doesn’t make any sense at all.”
JTEDs are in many ways the foundation to economic recovery in Arizona, Plumb said.
“CTE and JTED programs across the state continue to grow and expand critical partnerships with business and industry leaders who are mind boggled by the recent cuts to JTEDs and CTE programs statewide,” Plumb said.
In Yavapai County, local tax payers approved creating Mountain Institute JTED by nearly a 3-1 margin, and this effort was led by business and industry partners who hire the skilled graduates of JTED and CTE programs, Plumb said.
“We are beginning to see epidemic employment shortages in critical business and industry sectors such as aviation (especially pilots), health care, manufacturing, power and electrical system, and welding to name just a few,” Plumb said.
The continued funding cuts to JTEDs will punish charters and school districts with students enrolled in career and technical education by providing them with less per pupil funding, McCarthy said.
“After the fact, some legislators said they didn’t understand what the impact of that (cut) was,” McCarthy said. “There’s a lot of talk about how do we fix it.”
Educators must work with legislators to find ways to reduce that cut to a more reasonable amount, said Tom Tyree, superintendent of schools in Yuma County where voters recently approved a tax to support the new Southwest Technical Education District of Yuma (STEDY).
This is the second story in a three-part series.
Click on the following headline to read Part 3: What’s next for AZ career and technical education?