Career Pathways in California

Historically, school funding in California has been rather horrific since Proposition 13 limited local property taxes creating dependency on inadequate and precarious state funding, leading CA to have among the lower per pupil funding rates in the country. Last year Governor Brown revamped the school funding formula in ways that have tremendous potential to really change the equation and promote greater equity and better outcomes over time.  It seems the implementation has been messy initially, as might be expected, but yields movement in the right direction, freeing up districts to experiment in ways that could shed light on what techniques work best for improving performance among students who have traditionally been most underserved.  

In late January, Governor Jerry Brown gave us even more to be excited about through a significant budgetary boost around career education—specifically including $876 million for career technical education and other job training initiatives at K-12 schools and community colleges in his 2015-16 state budget proposal.

Among an array of career-focused programs, Brown’s package for career education includes $250 million over each of the next three years to create a Career Technical Education Incentive Grant Program to spur partnerships between school districts, colleges, and business. The program is intended to “accelerate the development of new and expanded high-quality CTE programs,” according to the budget proposal.  

This builds upon a total of $500 million over the past two years for the California Career Pathways Trust, which also promotes regional partnerships between K-12 districts, community colleges and businesses.   The new variable is having districts provide a dollar for dollar match to quality (ostensibly to have skin in the game) and the need to demonstrate a range of outcomes such as graduation rates, course-completion rates and the number of students receiving industry credentials and certificates. 

The governor identifies the programs as a key part of a larger, $1.2 billion statewide effort aimed at “reinvesting and reshaping California’s workforce preparation systems.” The effort aims to get students into training programs that are more closely linked to regional workforce needs and to better coordinate job training programs at colleges and schools in order to truly boost college and career readiness

“Increasing the resources available and better targeting where they are used will improve the skills of California’s workforce and better meet the demands of the growing economy,” the governor’s budget summary said. The funding, the summary said, is a “first step toward a broader strategy of aligning 49 workforce investment boards, 72 community college districts, more than 1,000 other local education agencies, and the employment programs of 58 county human services agencies.”

That sounds like a Common Core math problem, doesn't it? Such alignment is no easy feat but the absence of such alignment leads to dire disconnects.  We need to create clarity about what skills and knowledge students need to be successful at every level, and to create transparency (and expectations) about what opportunities are available at every level.  We have to create continuums of experience rather than discrete, disparate educational moments.

Linking career technical education in the schools with a larger workforce effort is an important shift, said Michael Kirst, president of the State Board of Education.  As I’ve written about before, these efforts are too often siloed.  While we certainly don’t want high schools to become overly “pre-professional,” creating clearer pathways and articulation patterns to ensure that students are best positioned for viable and satisfying livelihoods is important.

California's efforts are in keeping with federal requirements outlined in the reauthorization of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act jobs training program, through which agencies receiving federal money are now required to have common measurements and “integrated planning.”  How this will manifest is of course still an open question.  I’m hoping that a few industries or companies will become trailblazers in aligning jobs development in the business sector with career training programs in the schools in a way that is developmentally appropriate and appealing for teenagers and not at the expense of expansive learning (the last thing we need is a Scott Walker approach that puts workforce development at the expense of robust educational experiences and efforts to "improve the human condition" rather than addressing the two as inextricably interlinked.) 

Given my fixation on lengthening and strengthening the pipeline, I appreciate Governor Brown’s investment in secondary schools as a key part of the equation.  According to Randy Page, president of the California Association of Regional Occupational Centers and Programs, “it looks like the governor is really concerned about returning California to the economic power that it once was, and that starts in the secondary schools.”  Here here!  I look forward to what New York will be putting forward in this vein as there is huge potential for impact.