Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bills would bolster technical education

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Texas high school students who aren't headed to college need better opportunities to prepare for jobs even before they graduate, legislators said this week as they introduced two bills to bolster career and technical education.

Led by Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, the lawmakers said they hope the renewed push for such education will both prepare a better crop of workers for Texas employers and propel more students to a high school diploma.

One bill aims to encourage high schools to offer coursework aligned with specific career opportunities so a student could graduate with both a high school diploma and technical certification. Under the bill, the state would pay for the certification.

Shapiro, a Plano Republican, said the career and technology courses will not be the vocational classes of yesterday. Such courses will be kept "a part of and not apart from our academic program," she said.

Students would still be required to take four years of math and science, as college-bound students are, but they would have more relevant course options, such as engineering mathematics, said Republican Rep. Rob Eissler of The Woodlands, the bill's House sponsor and chairman of the Public Education Committee.

Schools that develop top-notch career and technology programs would have the opportunity to earn accolades under a new statewide accountability bill by Shapiro and Eissler that is to be unveiled today.

The second bill provides grants to foster career and technology programs at community colleges.

Cost estimates for implementing both bills were not available Wednesday.

The renewed focus on career and technology education is coming at a critical juncture, business groups say.

Luke Bellsnyder, executive director of the Texas Association of Manufacturers, said his members are the consumers of what Texas schools produce.

Up to 40 percent of workers in Texas manufacturing jobs will be eligible for retirement in the next five years, but Texas is not producing the skilled young workers to replace them, Bellsnyder said.

"We're just not seeing the product we need to compete globally and compete with our neighboring states," Bellsnyder said.

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