THE OUTCRY FROM members of our industry and a broad range of companies across the country may yet be enough to save federal funding for vo-tech schools. The real question, however, is whether we all can do more to promote vocational and technical education of high school students than merely support it with our tax dollars.
But let’s look at first things first.
We share the concern of other advocates of vo-tech education over attempts by the Bush administration to redirect federal vo-tech funding. Earlier this year the White House had proposed taking away vocational and technical education funding from the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, which in turn funds a variety of vo-tech grants and programs.
The Bush administration proposed cutting the $1.3 billion in Perkins Act funding and replacing it with a $1 billion Secondary and Technical Education State Grants Program. The measure would have mixed vo-tech funding with money for the No Child Left Behind mandates, so many employers feared that state governors would steer the money to broader K-12 educational needs.
Given the track record of many school administrators and career guidance counselors in placing a low priority on vo-tech education in general and the construction trades specifically, we agree that mixing these school funds would be a bad idea. The proposal so worried a spokesman for the Vocational and Industrial Clubs of America in June that he told a Kansas City newspaper: “The fear is vocational education will just disappear. I can’t believe employers in this country will just sit by and let it happen.”
Fortunately, companies that rely on employees with a vo-tech background have spoken up in support of funding the Perkins Act. The Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute was one of the first groups to sound the alarm.
Lake Coulsen, government affairs director for the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors - National Association, told CONTRACTOR: “PHCC and a host of other organizations want to see that funding be at the level that it was last year. We want to make sure that we have an adequate supply of skilled trades for our industry.”
Members of Congress apparently have been listening. The House of Representatives has voted to restore all the funding for the Perkins Act. The Senate Appropriations Committee has likewise approved the bill with funding intact.
Still, the Association for Career and Technical Education and other groups warn that Congress will have plenty of opportunities to change funding levels — up or down. ARI Chairman Thomas E. Bettcher is urging contractors and other industry members to contact their congressmen.
A sample letter to Congress has been posted on ARI’s Web site (www.ari.org). The letter states that the administration’s proposal to reduce vo-tech funding and revamp priorities “would increase the worker shortage in technical fields and devastate the reform efforts currently underway throughout career and technical education to ensure the high academic and technical skill attainment of all students.”
The plumbing-and-heating industry could turn out be a big loser if vo-tech education suffers. We encourage you to take the time to write to your representative and senators in Washington to voice your support of maintaining or even increasing funding earmarked for vocational and technical schools.
We also urge you to ask yourself what more you could do to support your local vo-tech schools. For an idea, you need look no further than the front page of this month’s issue to see how Jeffrey Young of Climatec Advanced Heating Technologies got involved with the Career Institute of Technology in his hometown of Easton, Pa.
One vo-tech student’s part-time summer job with Climatec led Young to offer suggestions to the school. Now he sits on CIT’s occupational board of trades.
Effective vo-tech education can make a difference in your company by raising the skills of your prospective employees. That’s why federal vo-tech funding is essential.
You also to have remember that you can make a difference in vo-tech education in your community. You should take this opportunity to make a positive impact.