Carolina Romo learns how to draw blood at a medical assistant's class at Metropolitan Adult School in San Jose. Photo by Neil Hanshaw

Carolina Romo learns how to draw blood at a medical assistant’s class at Metropolitan Adult School in San Jose. Photo by Neil Hanshaw

Some California Regional Occupational Centers – the primary providers of career technical education for high school students in the state – have been given a reprieve from Gov. Jerry Brown’s original plan to eliminate any future dedicated funding for them.

In his May budget revision, Brown instead proposed that centers that operate under joint powers authorities with several school districts and that also are funded through their county Offices of Education will receive dedicated funding for the next two years.

The purpose of the two-year reprieve is for those Regional Occupational Centers and Programs (ROCPs) to determine with their districts how they will support the centers moving forward, according to the Department of Finance.

It is unclear how many regional centers will qualify for this funding, but the Department of Finance estimates that the vast majority will not because they have different governance and funding mechanisms, such as those run by a district or by a county Office of Education. Others have joint powers agreements, but their funding comes directly from their school districts. In those cases, it will be up to the districts or county offices to determine how much funding the regional centers will receive.

The state’s two oldest centers – Southern California Regional Occupational Center in Torrance and Metropolitan Education District in San Jose – were the only centers the department was sure would qualify. Currently the Torrance center has a $6 million budget, with about two-thirds coming from the state through the county Office of Education. The San Jose center has a $20 million budget, with $12.5 million in state money coming through the county office for its high school program. Under the May budget revision, funds that would have gone to the individual districts participating in the joint powers agreements will instead be funneled to the regional centers.

“At least we can breathe again,” said Christine Hoffman, superintendent of the Southern California Regional Occupational Center, known as SoCal ROC. “It buys us some time. A lot can happen in two years.”

Before the recession, 74 regional centers provided about half a million high school and adult students with career technical training each year. Since then, two have closed, and it is not clear how many students currently are being served by the remaining centers.

SoCal ROC currently provides career training for 9,000 high school students and adults each year in areas that range from cosmetology to aerospace engineering. Professionals from the various fields teach the classes, and the center works with local businesses to provide externships for the students. It has a joint powers agreement with six school districts.

The Metropolitan Education District also provides a wide range of courses to 12,500 high school and adult students annually, and has a joint powers agreement with six districts.

Paul Hay, superintendent of Metro Ed, said the change in the governor’s budget is not fully thought out. “It does not strengthen or save career tech because at the end of two years, the dedicated funding all goes away.”

Since 2009, when the state allowed school districts to use money dedicated to the career tech programs for any educational purpose, two regional centers have closed. Most others have had to cut back their programs, some substantially. Metro Ed had to severely cut back courses it offered to adult students, closing two campuses and 43 sites at high schools and community centers.

Hoffman is “cautiously optimistic” that a compromise can be reached during budget negotiations to reinstate dedicated funding to all regional centers. These centers are key to the future of the state’s workforce, she said.

“In terms of job preparation and job training, this regional structure has been successful over the past 46 years,” she said. “When you are talking about the whole workforce in California, the state needs to be looking at it. It’s too important to leave it up to an individual district to decide.”

Centers such as Hoffman’s and Hay’s provide courses individual high schools can’t do on their own – such as auto mechanics and firefighting – that require investing in special equipment. A high school might be able to buy equipment for one or two programs, but not the array of choices offered at these centers.

Hoffman’s optimism is based on support she has gotten from legislators. Both the Assembly and Senate have bills that would preserve dedicated funds for the 72 remaining Regional Occupational Centers.

Senate Bill 660, introduced by Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, would provide separate funding for all of the centers. The bill also supports agricultural education programs and Partnership Academies that focus on one career path.

Assembly Bill 1214, introduced by Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, would also provide direct state funding to all Regional Occupational Centers.

In addition, Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has made supporting career technical education one of his top priorities. He is a coauthor of Senate Bill 69, introduced by Carol Liu, D-Glendale, which is a response to the governor’s Local Control Funding Formula. The bill states that it will become operative only if Hancock’s bill on career tech programs is also enacted.

“I think it is a good sign that there is support from the Assembly and the Senate,” Hoffman said. “People are aware now that the (governor’s) Local Control Funding Formula (for schools) never included the regional centers, and now the centers are a little higher up on their radar screens.”

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