The Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce is helping lead the way statewide by advocating for increased access to the vocational technical education system in Massachusetts.
The chamber is a co-founding partner of the Alliance for Vocational Technical Education (AVTE), a national coalition of other chambers of commerce, workforce development groups, associations of school administrators and social justice groups. This year, AVTE focused on passing several bills by the state legislature that expand access to vocational schools and technical programs.
These bills, S.357, S.348, H.666 and H.652, were recently referred to the Joint Committee on Education and were heard on July 6. The chamber, along with its allies in AVTE, testified in support of the virtual hearing.
The bills would collectively invest $ 3 billion in building vocational schools, establish a new commission to examine how the state funds vocational education, give two new seats on the Massachusetts School Building Authority advisory board to professional representatives and establish a new deputy career commissioner. technical education in the Department of Primary and Secondary Education, among other overdue actions.
A recent DESE report found that 75% of vocational schools had a waiting list for student applicants. In fact, students apply at the rate of 1.75 applications for each seat. The demand for this valuable education, which prepares students to enter a professional field or attend college as well as traditional high schools, is increasing. Meanwhile, according to the MassINC poll, 73% of Massachusetts employers reported difficulty finding qualified candidates for their job openings.
At the same time, schools looking to expand their physical capacity to accommodate more students and fill the skills gap are grappling with prohibitive costs as the School Building Authority is not currently reimbursing them at an appropriate rate.
AVTE recently sent a letter to the Governor, Speaker of the Senate and Speaker of the House requesting that $ 300 million of the state’s American Rescue Plan Act funding be allocated by the federal government for capacity improvement. three major regional vocational schools in the state to help avoid some of the financial burdens that will be shared by the communities served by the schools.
This access issue is particularly problematic for gateway cities like Worcester, where members of the local student body are more likely to come from underserved communities. Data shows that students of color and those who are economically disadvantaged are both less likely to apply and less likely to be accepted into state schools and vocational programs.
The chamber, as well as the AVTE, recognize that the question of access to vocational technical education is inevitably linked to equity of opportunity for all families and all students.
The demand for vocational education programs, such as the Worcester’s Night Life program at Worcester Technical High School, is also high. More than 9.6 million Americans lost their jobs during the pandemic – many of them in the restaurant and hospitality industries – and these people are looking for new, well-paying careers. People who gain new industry-recognized credentials through adult learning to become carpenters, plumbers, electricians, utility workers, etc. are a crucial part of this.
AVTE has advocated for increased funding for these adult learning programs, and Governor Charlie Baker has supported this effort. As a result, the Career Technical Institutes program received $ 15.3 million for the next fiscal year, compared to $ 4 million for fiscal 2021.
AVTE has also helped advocate for increased funding for grants that allow school districts to have vocational programs for students enrolled in traditional high schools. This project is funded at $ 2.5 million, compared to $ 1.5 million last year.
Increasing funding for these positions was a critical part of AVTE’s advocacy strategy for 2021.
If you are looking to support the chamber and AVTE’s efforts, call your local lawmaker and remind them to support Bills S.357, sponsored by Sen. Eric Lesser, S.348, sponsored by committee chair Education, Senator Jason Lewis, H.666, sponsored by Representative Frank Moran, and H.652, sponsored by Representative Kate Lipper-Garabedian.
David Sullivan is the Economic Development and Business Recruitment Associate at the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce.