Editorial: $110 million for tech-education? Yes, please

The expense of post-secondary education, combined with the difficulty of navigating career pathways, are the top reasons why 60 percent of Washington students don’t earn a college degree or finish a credential by the time they turn 26.

But what if students had the opportunity to choose a career path before they left high school? What if they could start training for high-demand, high-wage jobs while earning a diploma? Would a larger percentage of students find careers faster?

Gov. Jay Inslee says yes. It’s why $110 million of his $54.4 billion state operating budget is designated toward K-12 technical and vocational education, and the timing couldn’t be more critical.

In the next five years, our state will need a workforce ready to meet the demand of 740,000 jobs. High-tech manufacturing, health care and cyber security will all require specialized skills, or what educators call “three dimensional learning.”

Right now the state isn’t ready, but Inslee’s expansion of Career and Technical Education, CTE, puts students on a fast-track to jobs and a steady paycheck. Twenty-six million of the governor’s budget goes toward grant funding for curriculum and apprenticeship programs; another $22 million will target K-12 and Community and Technical College programs.

Existing workers will get $16 million, including those in the aerospace and construction trades. And best of all: The Washington State Promise program gets additional funding, which means more of our state’s need-based students get access to post-secondary education.

We also need to work on ditching the old stigma that voc-tech programs are dumping grounds for students who couldn’t achieve academically. The truth is, the trades require just as much smarts. They just need professionals with a different set of problem-solving skills.

Joyce Loveday, president of Clover Park Technical College in Lakewood, says pointing kids toward a technical or vocational career doesn’t mean strong academic instruction should be compromised. Many manufacturing and health care fields demand strong science, math and computer skills; and many trades, especially those involving automation, require an in-depth understanding of electronics and engineering.

But the college-preparatory curriculum is not the path for everyone. An increasing number of students are choosing to forgo a four-year degree, and the decades of debt that often accompany it, for a high-paying job in the trades. Who can blame them?

Funding career preparation during the K-12 years solves a lot of problems, and it’s one of those rare issues both Democrats and Republicans can get behind, as evidenced by last July’s federal passage of the Strengthening Career and Technical Education Act. That bill was motivated by a report from a House Committee that warned of a national “workforce crisis.”

Gov. Inslee’s allocation for vocational and technical college education wards off the pending workforce crisis; it tells industries Washingtonians are trained and ready to work. An investment, indeed.