Career and Technical Education (S.304) - Feb 27 - Mar 1, 2024

The Senate Education Committee spent most of the week reviewing S.304 which overhauls the state’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) system.

Jay Nichols (Executive Director, Vermont Principals Association (VPA)) presented a letter to the Committee in which he provided comments on the bill.  He believes it is a “laudable goal to provide students enrolled in grades 11 and 12 with a genuine opportunity to participate fully and to benefit from career technical education but he argued that many things can conspire to make full participation an elusive goal.  He thought exposing middle school students to CTE programs was a great idea but is not sure what that will look like across the state and may not be implementable and/or have an adverse impact on current CTE students. He would love to see a model in which 9 – 12th grade students would have access to and opportunities in career centers. If the system will have the necessary staff, space, and resources, they will fully support that goal.

He believes that CTE oversight should belong at the Secretary or Commissioner level. This is especially true in the current context in which the State Board of Education (SBE) has very few resources to provide oversight and support for our CTE system. However, they would prefer that the Agency be accountable to the SBE instead of the Governor (as the bill proposes).

Nichols shared that the VPA believes that the ability to earn college credits at secondary CTE centers is a critical tool in assisting our students in pursuing further training and/or education post high school graduation. Finally, he also shared that they believe Vermont needs to move toward a common school calendar. This will take leadership at the state level to accomplish, he noted.  

Chairman Campion noted that AOE is working on the financials. He stressed that the CTEs should not be seen as being in competition with the high schools when they send their kids to the CTE Centers. He also noted that it is not always easy to get kids from the HS to the Career Centers because of transportation, or lack thereof.

He noted that one CTE Center has twelve sending schools. Some students truly dislike high school but are looking forward to attending the Career Centers, which in some cases started with a visit to the Center.  He also shared the concern that the AOE has the time to look at the various model policies and make recommendations. He noted summer goes by fast and there is not much time to hold public hearings to get public input on any policy changes.

Jeff Fannon (Executive Director, VT-NEA) commented on the school calendar, noting it’s a touchy subject. Some of his members are supportive, some definitely are not, and it is a very emotional subject. However, he noted that there is a bill over in the House that might give the Committee another vehicle for the school calendar discussion.  As a general matter, the NEA is “certainly supportive of career and technical education as a valuable contribution.” The NEA believes students want and need CTE certifications, he reiterated. 

Fannon noted that the funding system needs to be changed but it “gives him pause and concern” if the state changes too much too fast.  He also noted that they don’t not want to see public schools charged more to send students to private schools or out of state schools. He believes that it is happening and shouldn’t be.

NOTE: It is unclear what he is referring to here. There is one CTE center that is run by an independent school but it does not cost more than other options.

Fannon also wants to be sure that CTEs will be included in school construction plans. He suggested the Committee should look at the House bills that cover school construction.

Tim Comes (Owner, Goodro Lumber) appeared before the Committee to express his support for Career Centers. He noted that it was a top priority to make sure that the Career Centers have the required funding and that the money was not being transferred from the high schools to the centers. Funding is a huge priority, he believes. However, he cautioned that while the CTE students get math and science credits they also need English credits to graduate and that can result in them spending more time in CTE programs. 

Comes said that he is on the Board of Directors of the Hanniford Technical School that the teachers are telling him that they would like more time with their CTE students – they a there for only a few hours.  They get set up, work a little and then have to wrap it up for the day.

He also thinks that instructors and teachers at regular high schools should be required to visit the Career Centers at least once so that they have an idea of what is being offered. He believes that the earlier we get kids involved the more chance they will participate in the CTE programs and stay in Vermont and make a good living.

Campion noted that this testimony is very consistent with what the Committee has been hearing. He asked how many students are turned away by the Career Center.  Comes did not provide a number but did say that they do have to turn kids away, in many cases, because they do not have the prerequisite courses in high school. For example, a student may need mechanical science classes during 9th and 10th grade before they can participate in a CTE program. Teachers need to advise the student of this.

A member from the Committee asked about apprenticeships and how more students could experience these programs. Comes noted that several companies already do something similar.  For example, three students came to his company for one week then switched off with three others.  It’s a model that is being picked up by other employers. The Committee were interested supporting this model.

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