The 21st Century Workforce Act could be headed to the full Senate of the Alabama Legislature for consideration this week after its easy passage through the Senate’s education budget committee late last week.
The bill calls for a $50 million bond issue for public school boards to buy career and technical education equipment.
The bond issue would allow for $10 million to go to local school systems in proportion to the number of career technical teachers employed; $20 million to local schools in proportion to the number of career technical students; and $20 million would be placed in a new 21st Century Workforce Fund. Local school systems would have to apply for grants from the fund, and other monies would be used to reimburse local systems for purchases of career technical equipment.
The grant money could not be used for construction of new facilities.
An amendment was added to the bill by Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, who serves as committee chairman. He said its purpose is to encourage schools to collaborate with industry to obtain equipment and “make sure we’re not financing with 20-year money, equipment that will be sitting on the shelf.”
Area career technical directors are watching the bill closely and hoping for an easy passage. Former state Board of Education member Gary Warren has been instrumental in promoting the bill. Prior to that, Warren traveled around the state sharing information with city and state leaders as well as business people, regarding the plight of career technical education. He has stressed the importance of additional funding if the state is to produce a competent workforce.
Muscle Shoals Center for Technology Director Gary Dan Williams said Warren’s work around the state has helped career tech get involved in the political process.
“(Warren) has addressed the erosion of career and technical education and people understand now what’s been happening around the state,” Williams said. “For the first time in a long time, I think the state sees the importance and the potential we have in Alabama if we have the properly trained workforce.”
Williams said the Workforce Act is beneficial for career technical education, but added there should be strong accountability associated with it.
“There’s got to be accountability tied with the distribution of funds to ensure that career tech has the money do what is needed,” he said. “The development of new programs requires money and it’s about what the students want and what’s needed in the workforce. Those two things absolutely must mesh. We need viable programs that provide opportunities for kids.”
Lisa Singleton-Rickman can be reached at 256-740-5735 or lisa.singleton-rickman@TimesDaily.com.