CTE is a win-win-win

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple was recently asked why his company moved its production to China. “It’s skill”, said Cook in response to Charlie Rose on “60 Minutes. “The U.S., over time, began to stop having as many vocational kind of skills” he said. “I mean, you can take every tool and die maker in the United States and probably put them in a room that we’re currently sitting in. In China, you would have to have multiple football fields.” Okay, so the CEO of the most profitable company in the world moved production out of the U.S. because American workers don’t have enough vocational skills.   Surely, that makes alleged “pro-business” legislators stand up and take notice, right? You would think, but this is Arizona.

In our state, the public high school districts charged with offering these tuition-free “vocational kind of skills” or Career and Technical Education (CTE) are Joint Technical Education Districts (JTED.) These JTED offer a variety of programs in fields such as business, computers and media, health science; and industrial technologies just to name a few. Students in JTED programs earn high school credit, and in some cases, may earn college credit, industry certifications, and/or a state license through combination of hands-on training and classroom instruction.

As the Pinal County Chair for the Arizona School Boards Association, I toured the Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology (CAVIT) in Coolidge this year.   This district has a partnership with eleven area high schools and offers aesthetics, cosmetology, dental assistant, fire science, law enforcement, massage therapy, medical assistant, nursing assistant, and veterinary assistant training programs. I was very impressed with what I saw at CAVIT. Engaged students were learning not only valuable trades skills that will earn them certificates and jobs when they graduate from high school, but also how to be valued employees. I left CAVIT thinking “this is exactly what we need in Arizona.”

Unfortunately, the AZ Legislature obviously doesn’t agree or just doesn’t “get it”. In 2011, they cut CTE funding for freshmen to the tune of $29 million. In 2017, another 7.5 percent cut takes affect. That may not sound like much, but on top of previous cuts it will devastate the program. In fact, JTED aren’t the only districts impacted since about 70 percent of the funding they receive is passed through to regular school districts where many of the classes are taught. JTED keeps the other 30 percent for operation of their central campuses. Jeremy Plumb, superintendent of Mountain Institute JTED in Yavapai County, said: [As the] programs continue to grow and expand critical partnerships; business and industry leaders are mind-boggled by the recent statewide program cuts.” Plumb also confirmed that Arizona is beginning to see epidemic employment shortages in industries such as health care, power and electrical systems, and aviation just to name a few. David Jones, president of the Arizona Construction Association, likewise confirms that quality carpenters, welders, electricians, plumbers and landscapers are in high demand adding: “There’s a stigma attached to going to a vocational school in the U.S.” Perhaps, but this stigma hasn’t extinguished student demand in Arizona with over 90,000 students enrolled in one of the state’s 13 JTED. After all, college is expensive and job opportunities aren’t what they used to be. JTED offers an alternative with less risk and at least as much promise for a secure future.

Truth is, although Americans love to tout “college for all” fewer than one in three young people achieve that dream. Some can’t even make it to college, but the real problem is our drop-out rate which is the highest in the industrialized world. There are a variety of reasons, to include that many college students (as with high school students who drop out) can’t see a direct connection between their studies and future employment. In fact, 81 percent of high school dropouts say relevant, real-world educational offerings would have kept them in school. This matters because the average dropout will contribute about $300,000 less to society than their high school graduate counterpart. CTE participation has proven to help. In Tucson Unified School District, students who took three or more CTE classes saw as much as a 60 percent decrease in the likelihood of dropping out of high school. In the Mesa Public Schools, students taking just two CTE classes were 79 percent less likely to drop out. Of this type of “applied learning” Richard Condit, Chief Administrative Officer, Sundt Corporation said: It is clear that when students see application of content, they are more engaged in and committed to their education.”

Not only does JTED/CTE provide skilled workers to eager employers, and keep students in school, it often provides young adults higher paying jobs than if they had gone to a four-year college. This is especially true when the avoidance of student debt is considered. A 2011 Harvard study showed that 27 percent of people with post-secondary licenses or certificates—credentials short of an associate’s degree—earn more than the average bachelor’s degree recipient. In today’s tough economy, the percentage is probably higher.

So, CTE is a win-win-win program. And yet, our Legislature seems intent on killing it. Yes, I know it is a budget issue. Yes, I know Governor Ducey is determined not to raise taxes (at least not directly), but this is a choice! This is HIS choice! This is inspite (or maybe in SPITE) of the fact that a recent poll found 66 percent of Arizonans would pay higher taxes to improve public schools.

It is OUR choice whether we continue to let our elected officials act counter to our wishes. Guess what? We ARE the boss of them! We grant them their jobs, we pay their salaries, and we should be giving them performance feedback. Click here for the Governor’s feedback form, and click here to find and email your legislative district’s representatives. And, if you want to make a difference real-time during the next legislative session, click here for the form to sign up for the Legislature’s Request to Speak System where you can engage from your home computer and have your comments become part of the public record. You CAN do something and what you do will matter. As Nike says, “just do it.”

A rose by any other name…is just as thorny!

ImageIt is no surprise Arizona Legislators continue to seek expansion of Empowerment Scholarship Accounts AKA, vouchers.  The concept is model legislation for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and has been introduced in numerous states around the country.  ALEC is the organization corporations pay big bucks to belong to so they can work together to develop model legislation to hand state legislators for introduction in their respective states.  ALEC claims it is non-partisan, but in 2012 it had only Democrat of 104 legislators in leadership positions.  In fact, every Republican legislator in Arizona is currently, or was recently, a member of ALEC.  The pipeline for the ALEC agenda in Arizona is the Goldwater Institute and Jonathan Butcher; Education Director from the Goldwater Institute is the “Private Chair” of ALEC’s Education Task Force.  Mr. Butcher has been collaborating with Rep Debbie Lesko, R-Peoria, ALEC’s Arizona State Chairman to expand Education Savings Accounts in Arizona.   Even the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, John Huppenthal, has actively promoted this private voucher program with a robocall directing parents to a Goldwater Institute website to pull their kids out of public school and send them to private school on the taxpayer’s dime, with no accountability.

Empowerment Scholarship Accounts were first introduced in Arizona in 2011 as a workaround to the state’s Supreme Court decision in 2009 that state school-voucher programs were unconstitutional because they violate a ban against appropriating public money for private or religious schools.  In Niehaus V. Huppenthal the Arizona Supreme Court determined ESAs were not the same as vouchers because the specified object of the ESA is the beneficiary families, not private or sectarian schools.  This decision is under appeal by the Arizona School Board Association and others.

ESA funds can be used for curriculum, testing, private school tuition, tutors, special needs services or therapies, or even seed money for college.  The program however, requires parents to waive their child’s right to a public education…a right that is guaranteed under the state constitution, in order to receive the benefits.

The original ESA bill, SB 1553, was signed into law April 12, 2011 and at that time, qualified students were only those eligible to received disability related services from a school district, or had been identified as disabled either by the school district or under federal guidelines.  Since then, we’ve seen expansions or at least attempted expansions, every year.  In 2012, the legislature attempted to expand the law with HB 2626, to include those attending a school or district that had been assigned a letter grade of D or F, previous recipient of a scholarship, child of a parent or guardian who is a member of the Armed Forces, child who is a ward of the court, or who has been identified as a gifted pupil.  Governor Brewer vetoed this bill on April 4, 2012.  In 2013, SB1363 was introduced to expand to all those categories above, and increased funding provided to 90% of the sum of the base support level and Additional Assistance if the student were attending a charter school.  Governor Brewer signed this bill into law on June 20, 2013.

Now, in its 51st Legislative Session, the Arizona Legislature is working fast and furious to further expand the state’s voucher program.  Here’s a list of what’s on the docket per the Arizona Legislature website:

Bill Purpose Status
HB 2291 & SB1236 Expands students eligible to those whose parents are police, fire, or EMT, as well as any child who has a sibling who is already receiving an ESA. Also extends eligibility to any student on free or reduced-price lunch programs and increases the household income threshold eligibility by 15% each year thereafter.  Would make a potential 881,000 students, or 73 percent of the total public-school population, qualified for the ESA program. The program is currently capped at 5,500 students until 2019 (per Legislative Report 2/26 AZ Capitol Reports.) House bill up for House vote 3/6/14.  Senate bill waiting to get on Senate Rules Cmte agenda.
HB2150 Allows children whose parents are an active-duty member of the armed forces to immediately enroll in a private school using vouchers and retain 25% of each voucher amount per student Ready for a floor vote
HB 2139 Expands eligibility to a sibling of a current or previous ESA recipient and those eligible to enroll in a program for preschool children with disabilities. Passed by House Approp Cmte
SB1237 Expands funding for ESAs to include the charter school additional assistance weight as well as 90% of the base support level funding the student would have otherwise received if they had attended a public school. Significant dollar increase, as the additional assistance amount is $1,684 for K-8 and $1,962 for high school. Passed the Senate along party lines
HB2036 Failed after Representative Eric Meyer added an amendment to the bill to require any student who uses the voucher to take the same assessment as public school students. Representatives Allen and Boyer specifically mentioned they were voting against the bill because the testing language was added to it. (per AEA) Defeated in House Education Committee

Pro-voucher folks argue that such programs level the playing field—low-income students can have the same educational options as their wealthier counterparts. In fact, they like to infer, if not outright state, that it is all about ensuring those low-income students are not stuck in bad schools. Really?  Only 362 students in Arizona had ESAs in 2012, but 92 percent of ESA funds went to private schools, in many cases for children whose parents could afford the schools without the assistance. For students without special needs, the program provides from $3,000 to $3,500 a year. As this is not nearly sufficient to cover the cost of tuition to a private school (which can be as much as $10,000), the program is unlikely to benefit students from low-income families.  Additionally, according to William J. Mathis, managing director at the National Education Policy Center, the best private schools often aren’t interested in participating in voucher programs, so voucher programs end up supporting lower quality alternatives. On top of all this, opponents of vouchers argue that the policy doesn’t improve educational outcomes or performance.

ESAs are really just another way for Arizona legislators to make the education of YOUR child, YOUR problem.  After all, under the Arizona constitution, “The legislature shall enact such laws as shall provide for the establishment and maintenance of a general and uniform public school system.” This is one of the primary responsibilities of the state of Arizona.  When state funding for educating is passed on to parents however, so will be the responsibility for that education.  After all, when you make a choice where to send their children, it won’t be your legislator’s fault you made the wrong choice.  Of course, ESAs are also good for those desiring to profit from the privatization of public education.  For-profit companies now run most charter schools and the lack of transparency and public oversight of charters and private schools will ensure profits can be maximized without repercussion.

Make no mistake about it; this push for vouchers is not in the best interest of the majority of Arizonans.  Over 85 percent of Arizona’s school children still attend public community schools.  Each time a student leaves with a voucher, schools lose the funding they would otherwise have received. Yet their overhead costs—for things like salaries and infrastructure—don’t go decrease just because a handful of kids left.  Jeremy Calles, the Kyrene School District chief financial officer, said “the state continues to use tax dollars and tax credits to make private school more affordable for the approximately 5 percent of the Arizona student population that makes the choice to attend those schools, while causing significant damage to the education of the 95 percent of students who are choosing to attend public schools.” Representative Eric Meyer added that supporting public education should be a priority of anyone at the Legislature who is interested in investing in the economic security of the state. “Legislation that undermines the public school system in our state is incredibly detrimental to our economic future,” Meyer said. “These vouchers use tax dollars to subsidize schools that are not subject to state testing standards. We need our kids in schools that can be held accountable for preparing them for the workforce. By starving public schools of resources, we are affecting the very foundation of our economy.”

The AZ Legislature is Busy…How Will Education Fare?

Several bills on education have been introduced recently in the Arizona Legislature.  Some will help support the majority of our students (almost 90% whom are enrolled in traditional public schools.)  Some however, will only serve to support privatization of education in Arizona which will not work to the advantage of most of our students.  The description of these bills has been provided by the Arizona Education Association.  My comments follow in italics.Thomas photo med_2

HB2399 would double school districts’ bonding capacity, which would help some districts out that are able to get voters to approve the bond, but this measure would also increase the economic inequities between school districts. – As many SaddleBrooke residents know, our latest bond issue for the Oracle School District failed in 2011.

HB2425 would disband the ELL Task Force and move its assignment to the Arizona Department of Education.  This task force was originally charged with the creation of the Structured English Immersion (SEI) program to be used in all school districts and with reviewing and approving alternative SEI models submitted by school districts.

HB2530 requires students enrolled in an Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) to annually take a norm-referenced achievement test or a college admissions exam. Kudos to Rep. Heather Carter for pushing this bill forward and ensuring there is accountability in this tax-payer funded voucher program.  Unfortunately, another bill (SB1363) expands the ESA voucher program to include students who are eligible for kindergarten. – HB 2530 is supported by the AZ Education Assoc. and the AZ School Board Assoc.  It is absolutely amazing to me that not only do we not have laws that require standards and testing in AZ’s work-around to a voucher program (ESA) and home schooling, but the AZ Legislature and AZ Dept. of Education is prohibited from regulating these programs.  How then do we know the children in these programs are being properly educated?

SB1285 would require the Arizona Department of Education to mail a pamphlet to parents about non-public school options such as private schools and vouchers. The bill would cost $1.5 million annually and proposes to use federal Title 1 funding.  AEA President Andrew F. Morrill told the Arizona Republic, “The bill appears to be a marketing ploy to use public funds to increase the customer base for private schools. This is unnecessary and probably would run into some legal challenges down the road.”  The bill is ALEC’s signature legislation this year.  It was held in Senate Education committee last week and is on the agendas for the Education and Appropriations committees this week.

SB1385 would make private charter school teachers’ evaluations so they could not be released under a public records request. – How can this be in anyone’s best interest except for those who profit from the charter school’s operation?

SB1450 seeks $5 million from the general fund for Arizona’s Alternative Teacher Development Program to be awarded to a qualifying service provider, i.e. Teach for America. – Both Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education and an education policy analyst and Linda Darling-Hammond, Professor of Education at Stanford University, have criticized Teach for America (TFA) for sending inexperienced young people to teach the nation’s most vulnerable children.  In fact, a study in Arizona in 2002 held that TFA teachers had a negative impact on their students as compared to certified teachers.  Another study Darling-Hammond led with 4,400 teachers and 132,000 students concluded certified teachers consistently produced significantly higher achievement than those uncertified and TSA teacher had a negative or nonsignificant effect.