Massachusetts’ political leaders and educators are both vested in the state’s economic future, and realize the best way to attract and retain businesses is to prepare the workforce to meet the demand for skilled labor.
To attain that goal, a greater investment must be made in expanding public vocational-technical high schools. If the state can’t build new technical schools, it must increase capacity so more students can take advantage of academically innovative programs. But that must resonate with those who can make this happen. That’s why lawmakers, a former top Baker administration official and a one-time lieutenant governor joined advocates Monday at the Statehouse to call for increased funding for vo-tech education and passage of a bill to expand programs.
The Alliance for Vocational Technical Education said 20 percent of Massachusetts high school students are enrolled in a career and technical education (CTE) program, but that 3,200 students across the state are on waiting lists.
Massachusetts Competitive Partnership CEO Jay Ash, the former state economic development secretary, said business leaders “all have the same thing to say” when he asks about the future of their business and the state’s economy: “It’s not about taxes, it’s not about regulations. It’s about workforce.”
The alliance — made up of business groups, educational organizations, and civic groups — wants increased Chapter 70 and Chapter 74 local aid for schools with CTE programs, and for the passage of HD 3279. The alliance said the bill will support expansion of CTE programs and direct the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to appoint a deputy commissioner for CTE.
Tim Murray, a former lieutenant governor and current CEO of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce, said a recently approved $1 million federal grant would be used to expand partnerships between comprehensive high schools and vocational schools to serve some of those on a waiting list. Most students on tech-school wait lists live in gateway cities, including Lowell, Fitchburg and Lawrence.
Greater Lowell Technical High School, one of the state’s largest, recently completed a $65 million expansion/rehab project. Its wait list increased 22 percent to 172 for the 2018-19 calendar year, including 139 from Lowell. At Montachusett Regional Vocational Technical School in Fitchburg, 200 students on average wait for a seat. The Eagle Tribune of North Andover recently reported that Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School in Danvers and Greater Lawrence Technical High School in Andover have a combined wait list of more than 1,600.
The state Legislature should take up this issue immediately.
The bottom line: Far more resources are needed. Increased access to a technical curriculum will meet the needs of business, help communities in dire need of economic opportunities, and help students who need it the most.