**Updated May 22. In a sign of budget debates to come, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, including more than half of the state Assembly, have signed a letter urging Gov. Jerry Brown to preserve funding for career education programs that help prepare students to enter the work force when they graduate.
The letter was followed Thursday by vote from a key budget subcommittee to restore $384 million in dedicated funding for career technical education programs in high schools.
“State and local policies have largely focused on college readiness and statewide assessment results,” said the letter, submitted Wednesday* by 45 lawmakers, all but one from the Assembly. “Due to this focus and the recent flexibility provided through the (Local Control Funding Formula), the future of career technical education is uncertain. This uncertainty will have a negative impact on our state’s economic future.”
The lead signer, Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi, D-Torrance, has pledged to restore categorical funding for career technical programs. He is especially concerned about Regional Occupational Centers and Programs, which provide highly specialized training for high school students in fields such as automotive repair, dental hygiene and other high-paying fields. The programs are costly, with most requiring expensive, specialized equipment for students to train on. One of the state’s largest and oldest regional occupational centers, the Southern California Regional Occupational Center in Torrance, has said it will close without a dedicated funding stream.
Muratsuchi made good on his pledge Thursday, announcing that the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance, which he chairs, voted to restore $384 million in dedicated funding for career technical education programs. The committee also approved $1.25 billion in one-time funding for implementation of the Common Core standards, among other increases.
Advocates for career technical education have been increasingly concerned about the future of the programs, which will lose their dedicated – or “categorical” – funding stream under the new funding formula for schools. The formula eliminates most mandated spending on specific program areas and instead gives school districts broad leeway to spend state money as they see fit.
Although districts are required to incorporate measures of how well they’re preparing students for college and careers into their new three-year spending document, the Local Control and Accountability Plan, career tech advocates fear that too much of the focus will be on preparing students for college and that specialized career programs will suffer.
“Schools tend to focus on areas that state requires, funds and measures,” reads the letter. “These are the drivers that have played an important role in shaping instructional priorities for the past decade.”
The letter calls on Brown to preserve all state funding for career technical programs and to hold districts accountable to use the money to provide high-quality career programs. The letter was signed by 30 Democrats and 15 Republicans, including Assembly Education Committee Chair Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, and Vice Chair Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto, and Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Nora Campos, D-San Jose. Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Redondo Beach, was the sole senator.
A spokesman for the Department of Finance responded that the new funding formula “elevates the importance” of career education because schools are now required to incorporate measures of career readiness into their LCAP spending plans. The governor’s proposed budget includes a $4.5 billion increase to help schools implement those priorities, said spokesman H.D. Palmer,
Brown’s budget last year required districts to maintain their current level of funding for career technical programs through 2014-15; the budget for this year and next also allocates about $200 per high school student for career tech, although districts can spend the funds for other purposes. The governor last year also allocated $250 million for the California Career Pathways Trust, a one-time grant program to promote career education partnerships between school districts, community colleges and local businesses.
Brown’s budget proposals for 2015 did not include additional funding specifically for K-12 career tech programs, but his revised budget proposal for next year, released May 13, included a one-time $50 million boost for career-training programs at community colleges to help expand course offerings and purchase new equipment.
* Editor’s note: The letter was mistakenly dated May 12. It was delivered to the governor May 21, 2014, according to a spokeswoman with Muratsuchi’s office.
Michelle Maitre covers career and college readiness. Contact her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @michelle_maitre. Sign up here for a no-cost online subscription to EdSource Today for reports from the largest education reporting team in California.