Infusion of money for career education in new state budget

Photo from Flickr.Programs that prepare students for college and careers are about to get a jolt of one-time state money that supporters are counting on to lead to a permanent and sustainable expansion of programs.
The state budget that took effect Monday includes an extra $250 million in grants for a variety of programs, collectively known as career technical education, for K-12 districts, charter schools and community colleges. State leaders are hoping that business leaders will see the extra money as an incentive to step up their involvement through internships and donations of time, money and equipment.
The money was added in the final budget negotiations at the insistence of Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who has led efforts to inject career-oriented programs into high school curricula and to give more credit to districts that offer them through the state’s academic accountability system, the Academic Performance Index.
The money will be dispensed, not uniformly per student, but through competitive grants of up to three years, with a priority given to those districts that have matching contributions from industry partners, especially for high-need, high-growth sectors of the economy. So it’s in districts’ interest to work together regionally with some of the larger industries, like Kaiser Permanente, Disney and Pacific Gas and Electric.
“This is a significant investment for work-based learning sites where there had been no investment in the past several years,” said Christopher Cabaldon, a principal with the Sacramento-based consulting firm Capitol Impact and executive director of the Linked Learning Alliance. The alliance, which added 63 districts this year, helps districts organize multi-year career-oriented programs, blending academics and hands-on learning, in high schools.
The grants will advance the cause of linked learning, with its district-wide approach to career pathways; until now, it has been dependent largely on philanthropy through the James Irvine Foundation. But the new money should shore up veteran programs whose funding has been threatened: California Partnership Academies and the Regional Occupational Centers and Programs. Both are specifically cited in the trailer bill outlining the intent for using the money. (Under the new state budget, funding for regional centers will continue as is for two more years; funding for partnership academies also will be protected as one of the few programs that won’t be absorbed into the new Local Control Funding Formula.)
“I am hoping this will be an enormous benefit to us,” said Jerry Winthrop, the chief consultant for the Department of Education overseeing partnership academies. His goal, he said, is to double the current 290 academies, serving 60,000 students, to 600, with at least one academy in every district. Partnership academies are three-year programs within comprehensive high schools that target low-income students with a bumpy academic record. They provide the students with counseling, business internships and courses centered on an industry theme, such as law enforcement, digital media, health careers, architecture and engineering. The Legislature funded as many as 500 career academies, but funding for only the 290 has been secure.
The new funding will address the weak link that has set back some partnership academies and limited linked learning districts from scaling up: establishing ongoing, smooth relationships with businesses. Partnership academies have relied on lead teachers to establish internships, but funding cuts have reduced their ability to do outreach.
The enabling legislation encourages hiring coordinators between businesses and districts or regional collaboratives to oversee mentoring programs and bring in experts in curriculum development and teacher training.
The public-private partnerships have worked well for a decade in Boston, where career specialists work within districts as employees of the public workforce agency, said David Rattray, senior vice president of education and workforce development of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.
The state Department of Education will award the grants to both K-12 districts and community colleges in consultation with the chancellor’s office of the community college system, business groups and the state Workforce Investment Network, which coordinates training for local labor markets. The Department of Education will create guidelines for the program.
Steinberg had proposed in Senate Bill 594 a more ambitious program, including tax incentives for businesses and a new instrument, called “workforce investment bonds,” that would have offered businesses investing in education a rate of return based on measures of student performance. But those instruments proved complex to administer. With the state suddenly awash in unanticipated revenue, Steinberg pursued a simpler version that will provide more money for career ed than supporters imagined would come their way.

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