By Fred Solis
A year ago, Joseph Elpers didn’t know what he wanted to do after high school. Now, thanks to the Fire Science class he took last year at Andale High School, he’s focused on a profession.
“I want to be on the fire department. I’m doing rides with the Wichita Fire Department. I get to see what it’s about and experience it firsthand,” he said.
Elpers, a senior, was one of several Andale High students that were on hand last Thursday in the Andale High School library for Governor Sam Brownback’s visit and presentation of incentive payments to the Renwick and Maize School Districts as part of the Career and Technical Education (CTE) program that was signed into law in 2012. The program’s goal is to increase the number of high school graduates who are college-and career-ready.
The CTE program provides high school students free tuition for technical education courses taken at technical and community colleges, and establishes an incentive program for school districts to get students involved in career and technical education prior to graduating from high school.
“It’s about an $11 million budget,” Brownback said. “It’s free for students in Kansas. It’s a high value to individuals and the State of Kansas. It’s a $1,000 bounty for every student that gets certification in the State of Kansas.”
“The value of obtaining an industry-recognized credential by the time a student graduates from high school is immense,” Brownback said. “That graduate will have a marketable skill to enter the workforce and, if they choose, have the ability to work during college to limit their debt – all without paying a penny in tuition.
“The community and technical colleges benefit from more students, the school district benefits from the $1,000 incentive and the economy benefits from having another skilled worker join the workforce. Everybody wins,” he said.
Under the program, school districts are awarded $1,000 for each student that earns an industry-recognized technical certificate in one of 15 key occupations, including fire fighting, certified nursing assistant, electricians and computer user support specialists.
On Thursday, Brownback presented Renwick Superintendent Tracy Bourne with a $27,000 check, and Maize Superintendent Doug Powers received a check for $33,000. Appropriation for the program, established in 2012 by Senate Bill 155, is currently about $11.5 million, Brownback said.
The occupations, identified as those in highest need of additional skilled workers by the Kansas Secretary of Labor, and in consultation with the Board of Regents and the Board of Education, are updated annually.
“It was an opportunity for the fire science kids to get introduced to that,” said Andale Principal Stan May. “For about five students, it was an “Aha moment.” ‘This is what I wanted to do.’”
Most of the students completed training for a certified nursing assistant, and they were equally pleased to have gotten an early look at a potential career occupation.
“Thank you for your support and helping my dreams come true,” said Danielle Neville, Andale senior, who plans to attend college as a pre-med student. “It’s a great opportunity. It will help make me money to go on to college and have experiences. It helps you understand what the job is going to be like and if you really want to do it.”
By the year 2020, there will be 55 million new jobs, said Dr. Tony Kinkel, president of Wichita Area Technical College. Most of them will require a degree, and 30 percent of them will require a two-year degree, he said.
Other local school districts that received money from the program were Maize and Wichita.
“The real winners are the students,” Bourne said. “We’re meeting their needs better, and it’s tuition-free.” Renwick also plans to use its incentive check to invest in its career and technical education program, he said.
According to state officials, there has been a 50 percent increase in the number of high school students enrolling in CTE courses in Kansas since the bill was signed into law. During the 2012-2013 school year, an estimated 5,800 junior and senior high school students enrolled in college level technical education courses, generating more than 43,000 credit hours. Seven hundred and three students earned industry-recognized certificates in health, construction, manufacturing, and automotive fields. That’s an increase of 28% over the previous year.
For the 2012-2013 school year, the state will award $703,000 to 111 districts for students that obtained a certificate.
“For Kansas to compete in the marketplace, we need to meet the rising business demand of a well-trained workforce,” Brownback said. “Early results are in, and I’m happy to announce the action we took to better prepare students for college and careers looks very promising for the future.”
“ The value of an industry-recognized certificate cannot be overstated,” Brownback continued. “Our businesses get a well-trained workforce. Graduates will immediately have a marketable skill to begin their career or get a job that will help pay their way through college. And most importantly, students have skill sets that they can rely on for the rest of their lives to support themselves and their families.”
For May, though, “it’s all about the kids.”
“They’re getting college credit that they can take directly into the world of work,” he said.
Perhaps senior Jordan Seiler summed it up best when he said, “Thanks for helping. Thanks for allowing me to have a brighter future.”