Guest column: Job-focused education proposal is an opportunity Louisiana can’t pass up
The recent accountability proposal from the Louisiana Department of Education has the potential to be a strategic win for our students, schools and the entire state of Louisiana. While accountability formulas are always challenging to construct and even harder to explain in plain English, we want to make it crystal clear that the proposed changes will help improve career and technical education (CTE) in our schools and better prepare our students for the jobs Louisiana has to offer.
Considering the continued loss of population in our state, especially with our young adults and families, this is an opportunity we simply cannot pass up.
If this proposal is adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE), Louisiana high schools will be incentivized to partner with area industrial and technical training partners to prepare kids more effectively for opportunities after high school with a spotlight on career and technical education for the first time ever. With the new proposal before BESE, the Louisiana Community and Technical College System (LCTCS), along with other postsecondary education and training providers and with support from economic developers and the Louisiana Workforce Commission, will have an important new role in helping our high schools align their programs to industry demand and offering students more seamless transitions to college and career opportunities after graduation.
LCTCS and other area private businesses and training partners will collaborate closely with their local school districts, communities, and industry sectors to ensure that what is being offered and taught in our high schools stays relevant and leads to real workforce opportunities. In addition to spurring economic growth by building better pipelines of highly skilled workers, these incentives will provide access for our students to the best jobs in each region of the state, improving equity outcomes and allowing people to earn family-sustaining wages in the communities in which they choose to live.
Under the current model, too many high school career and technical training programs are approved through other processes that lack relevancy to area demand and are failing to generally prepare our students for the realities of the modern workforce. This is a missed opportunity we can no longer afford to entertain, especially for career and technical students.
The bottom line is all of our high school students deserve to be prepared for whatever avenue in life they choose – whether that be post-secondary education or the workforce. However, Louisiana high school students are currently at an 82/18 split for students on a 4-year university track versus a career pathway, and of the 82% of college-bound graduates, a large percentage fail to enroll or they exit college before their second year. Realistically, that split should be closer to 50/50, and that’s why the proposal coming before the BESE Board next week is truly so exciting – the new proposal signals to high schools that we value high-quality career and technical training and education.
Even more exciting, the new proposed accountability formula will incentivize high schools to target those students often left behind or unengaged with the real opportunity to participate in dual enrollment courses and work-based learning experiences that are geared towards career and technical skills that are needed and relevant to their communities. Louisiana’s historic inequities can only be addressed by ensuring that all students have access to these opportunities. This proposal gets us closer to that vision.
Everyone knows that Louisiana is facing economic headwinds and too many of our families are losing their graduating children to jobs in other states. Furthermore, our rural and under-resourced schools face disproportionate challenges in providing rigorous career and technical education leading to high-quality employment.
Strengthening linkages between schools, colleges, and the economy through incentives like those represented in the accountability proposal coming before BESE will drive resilient growth and improve the prosperity of all our people. On behalf of the businesses ready to hire young adults and the career and technical faculty ready to deliver this training, we are excited about this opportunity to finally get the incentives right. We applaud the Department of Education for proposing a new accountability formula that will finally prioritize and reward high-quality career and technical education in high schools and we hope BESE sees fit to approve this proposal soon.
Click HERE to read the guest column on The Advocate’s website.
Stephen Waguespack serves as president of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry. Monty Sullivan is president of the Louisiana Community & Technical College System.