The Maine Legislature’s Education Committee held a public hearing March 13 on legislation that would make it easier for high school students to take courses at Career and Technical Education schools, and to get credit for those courses from their own high schools and community colleges.
Education Commissioner Stephen Bowen delivered the following testimony supporting LD 1865, An Act to Enhance Career and Technical Education.
Testimony of Stephen Bowen, Commissioner of Education
Senator Langley, Representative Richardson, and Members of the Joint Standing Committee on Education and Cultural Affairs:
My name is Stephen Bowen, Commissioner of the Department of Education, and I am here today representing the Department of Education in support of L.D. 1865, An Act To Enhance Career and Technical Education.
I know that I don’t need to spend a great deal of time today explaining to the Committee why expanding student access to Career and Technical Education (CTE) is good public policy. We know that these programs provide students with knowledge and training that is not only important to the students themselves, but is critical for Maine’s economic future. We know that there are employers out there right now, prepared to hire, if only they could find the skilled workforce they need.
Our Career and Technical Education schools are responding to these needs, and LD 1779, which you passed out of the Committee a short time ago and which is on its way to becoming law, moves our CTE programs toward full adoption of national industry standards, which will ensure our CTE students are well prepared for post-secondary education and careers.
The bill before you today seeks to enhance CTE education in Maine even further, making policy changes that we believe will expand access to our CTE schools and ensure that students completing CTE coursework have greater access to postsecondary opportunities.
With regard to expanding access to the CTE schools themselves, L.D. 1865 does two things.
First, in Sections 1, 3 and 4 of the bill, we seek to ensure that students are able to earn credit towards their high school graduation by completing academic courses located at CTE schools. Today, a number of our CTE schools offer regular high school courses—math and language arts courses, for example—right at the CTE school, so that students traveling long distances to the school can not only complete their career and technical courses, but can complete the regular high school courses needed for graduation as well, which helps to ease the scheduling conflicts that often prevent students from attending CTE schools at all.
As seen in Section 1 of the bill, LD 1865 clarifies that courses in those subjects that make up the “comprehensive program of instruction” required under statute for a high school diploma can be provided through “separate or integrated study within the career and technical school curriculum” including through the courses this bill would allow under Section 3 and Section 4. The proposed amendments to those sections would permit our Career and Technical centers and regions to provide those required courses, and ensures that completion of those courses satisfies the state’s diploma requirements.
Section 2 of the bill seeks to more fully address the issue of scheduling conflicts by requiring that those school districts and private schools approved for tuition purposes that share a CTE school adopt a common school calendar with no more that 5 dissimilar days.
The CTE directors that I spoke with made clear to me in the discussions I’ve had with them that if there was only one thing we could do to make it easier for students to attend CTE schools, it would be to require that sending schools and districts adopt a common calendar. The challenge the CTE schools confront when there is no common calendar, of course, is that they have to try to ensure that students meet course requirements even though they have some students on some days and other students on other days. Half the sending schools might have a teacher workshop day while the other half other have school, which complicates life for both the CTE instructors, who struggle to manage instructional programs with students missing all the time, and for the students themselves, who may miss critical course content by being absent, and all because the sending schools and districts can’t agree on a common calendar.
This issue of instructional time is taking on even more importance as our CTE schools move to more fully embrace national industry standards, many of which require a certain minimum number of hours of instruction. In recognition of that fact, we’ve included language in Section 2 of the bill which requires that students be provided with the instructional time needed to complete their programs.
Section 5 of the bill was developed in collaboration with President Fitzsimmons and the Community College System, and it sets up a process by which those CTE programs that are using national industry or state certification standards can be reviewed by the Community College System, which will, in turn, determine how much college credit, if any, to award to students who complete those programs and who then go on to enroll in a Community College. We see this initiative as a way to bring the CTE and Community College systems into better alignment, and to ensure that there is collaboration between them that creates more and better opportunities for students. We are very appreciative of the commitment that President Fitzsimmons has made to this initiative and we look forward to working with the Community College System on this important effort.
I know that this Committee has made Career and Technical Education a top priority, and I thank you for your support for LD 1779. By supporting this bill as well, the Committee can take another significant step forward for CTE. We can create the best CTE programs for students that we can, but if we can’t get the students to the CTE schools to take advantage of them, or we don’t align those programs with post-secondary programs at the Community College System, then we are not doing everything we can to expand opportunities for the students these systems are here to serve.
It is for these reasons that the Department and the Governor’s Office are testifying in support of LD 1865, An Act To Enhance Career and Technical Education. I am happy to take any questions the Committee may have, and I will be available for work sessions on this bill.