In January 2012, seeking to stimulate a boost in career and technical education in the state of Kansas, Gov. Sam Brownback launched what may have been the most successful push of his gubernatorial career. The “Excel in Career and Technical Education Initiative” — launched in conjunction with then-Senate Bill 155 — essentially provided high school students with free tuition for career and technical education courses at local community colleges and technical schools. The legislation also provided incentive payments to districts based on the number of high school students who earned an industry-recognized technical certificate in certain high-demand occupations (e.g., welding, nursing, etc).
The program was an instant success. Last year’s CTE enrollment numbers statewide nearly doubled the numbers posted in 2012. In many ways, though, the program has been a victim of its own popularity. According to a recent editorial in the Lawrence Journal-World, in 2013, funding for the program was $13.2 million and costs were $12.7 million. Last year, however, the Legislature provided $20.8 million in funding, but costs for the 2016-17 school year — with the glut of new students knocking down the door to get in — were $24.5 million. Current allocation for the 2017-18 school year is $20.8 million. Costs are expected to be $28 million.
It’s against this backdrop, then, that each school district in the state is left to figure out how to make the best use of the CTE initiative and its funds while they’re still on offer.
IOLA HIGH SCHOOL principal Scott Crenshaw and counselor Melissa Stiffler have poured no small quotient of time and sweat into overhauling the district’s program of career and technical education to make it as pertinent and effectual for IHS students as possible.
On Monday, the two USD 257 employees presented to the board of education their three-year “CTE Plan of Action,” which endeavors both to fulfill the mission of the initiative — improving students’ career and college readiness — and to best take advantage of the funding that follows in its wake.
A chief facet of the pair’s approach to CTE is to broaden its church by giving the program a new relevance among students whose academic careers wouldn’t normally intersect with the CTE curriculum. “We are no longer drawing a line of demarcation between college-bound students and career and tech ed,” said Crenshaw. “What we want to do is blend those together and even use career and tech pathways to give college-bound students ideas [that will influence their career goals.]”
And it’s not just an idle hope with Crenshaw and Stiffler; they’ve devised a number of specific curricular solutions that would allow a blending between the school’s core classes and its CTE classes. For example, the school could take an applied class like engineering design (CTE) and “blend” it with a geometry class (core) — forming a single class that satisfies the requirements of the CTE Excel initiative as well as a student’s basic learning requirements. “So, in geometry,” explained Crenshaw, “if they’re studying Pythagoras’ theorem, there will be an engineering activity to bring those together, to get it from the mind to the application.”
This state-approved “blending” idea, by essentially enrolling every student at IHS in at least one CTE course, would increase the overall number of CTE students in the district and, resultantly, the number of incoming state dollars.
At the moment, only â37 percent of âIHS students âare âenrolled in career and tech ed courses. Crenshaw and Stiffler’s plan to boost CTE participation, however, if it flies, could garner USD 257 at least $83,000 in additional annual general fund revenue.
“But, I’ll say it again and again,” stressed Crenshaw, “tâhis isn’t about fundingâ.â Tâhis is about giving opportunities to kids to find their way and to have experiences. The funding is the frosting on the cake. It is a nice addition but what this does is give our kids an opportunity to have some experiences that will help guide them. That’s the real goal.â“
THE BLENDED class isn’t the pair’s only idea for improving CTE at IHS. During the first year under this new system, Crenshaw and Stiffler hope to add seven new pathways to the district’s curriculum, bringing the total number of pathways at IHS to 19. (A “pathway” is the term of art in the CTE world that refers to the cluster of academic and occupational knowledge that is organized to successfully propel a student from secondary to postsecondary training in their chosen field.). The new system will institute guidelines to ensure that incoming high-schoolers abide by their pathway requirements and individual plans of study. Crenshaw and Stiffler also want to add new student organizations — a health-careers organization and a technology-focused organization — that will bolster the school’s career and tech environment and provide interested students with an active peer base.
In the second year of installing the program, explained Crenshaw, they hope to introduce a “practical arts” requirement to the curriculum — Family and Consumer Science courses, for example, or Industrial Tech. “These are real-life courses,” said Crenshaw. “[They would allow] the student to leave here knowing, ‘OK, I can cook something’ or ‘I do know what those white boxes are that clothes come out of clean, and I know how to operate them.’” Crenshaw and Stiffler hope, too, to strengthen and grow the partnerships between the district’s pathway programs and Iola-area businesses in fields as wide-ranging as wind energy and cosmetology, auto-body repair and nursing. Crenshaw pointed to the fruitful work-study relationship IHS has forged with Allen County Regional Hospital as an example.
The third year of implementation would witness, if all goes according to Crenshaw and Stiffler’s plan, the addition of more pathways, an increase in CTE funding and, most significantly, the district would attempt — by forging an alliance with two or three other similarly sized districts — to become independent of the Greenbush Consortium to which they’re currently joined. This new, smaller consortium would, in a nutshell, give the district a better return on the federally-generated Perkins funds for which they’re beneficiaries.
Such a move assumes, perhaps, a new wisdom in light of President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2019. On Monday, the head of the Association for Career and Technical Education released a statement in response to the budget proposal, saying that it “continues the disappointing, decade-long trend of drastically underfunding the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act (Perkins). This budget proposal…represents a 13 percent reduction (nearly $170 million in nominal dollars) in annual Perkins funding to states since FY 2007.”
â “This is the current money game,” said Crenshaw. “If we’re not playing it, then shame on us. That’s what’s out there. … When it dries up, we’ll look for the next game that government always plays. But, right now, if we can get our pathways approved, this could be a reality starting next fall. … And we’d like to do the work to make it happen.”â
And Crenshaw and Stiffler have a friend at the top. “If you ask me whether we’re going down the right track [with this program],” said Superintendent of Schools Stacy Fager, reacting to the pair’s presentation, “I really think so.”
Board president Dan Willis made vocal his support, too. â“I really, really like this. … Anything we can do to be entrepreneurial [given] our declining enrollment and different challenges, is great. I really appreciate what you guys have done.”