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Why Career Technology Should Be a Higher State Budget Priority

By Dr. Steve Tiger, Superintendent
Tulsa Technology Center

Did you know Oklahoma has a world renowned education system that improves science, technology, engineering and math education while helping businesses find and train workers for wealth-building careers?

We do. It’s known as CareerTech. Created by visionary leaders in the 1960s as a vocational-technical education system that now has more than 500,000 enrollments in nearly 400 public school districts, 29 technology centers and 16 skills centers located in correctional facilities statewide. CareerTech is commonly referred to as Oklahoma’s economic development arm of public education.

I have the honor to serve as superintendent and CEO of Tulsa Technology Center. Tulsa Tech provides rewarding career training opportunities for high school and adult students as well as workforce-training programs for Oklahoma businesses. These programs increase workers’ skills and improve the bottom line for employers. In fact, last year Tulsa Tech enrolled more than 4,300 high school and adult students in full-time career majors and had over 31,000 enrollments in part-time classes and customized business and industry training. Statewide, more than 6,600 businesses utilized technology centers’ customized training in 2013.

While that is an impressive contribution to workforce education, the state commerce department projects by 2025 Oklahoma will need more than 67,000 new workers to maintain job growth and another 88,500 to expand Oklahoma’s economy by 3 percent in key industries. The majority of these workers will need the type of certificates or industry credentials that Tulsa Tech and our CareerTech system provide. To address industry demand and help high school graduates needing skill training in the Tulsa Tech service area, our board of education created the Accelerating Independence Scholarship. This scholarship will assist recent Tulsa County high school graduates ages 18 to 23 with tuition costs associated with a wealth generating career training program. However, additional state resources must be invested into CareerTech in order for our state to achieve a competitive workforce.

In order to train and employ workers for this massive influx of jobs, the Legislature must increase their investments in career and technology education. This is why CareerTech is asking the Legislature to invest an additional $36 million in fiscal year 2016 to expand access to workforce education.

Legislators have the difficult task of prioritizing a finite amount of funds where almost infinite needs exist. My fellow superintendents and I thank them for this difficult work and fully appreciate how difficult prioritization can be.

Education needs are particularly sensitive, and CareerTech is intrinsically linked to our partners in K-12 and higher education. All branches of our education system are critically important and must continue to be a priority.

We encourage policymakers to take into consideration CareerTech state appropriations over the last six years has declined by approximately 15 percent. If the Legislature sees fit to reverse this trend, CareerTech has the ability and determination to embrace performance-based funding. CareerTech will invest new dollars into high-performing classrooms without depleting funding for existing programs. This will spur the entire system toward greater achievement.

Additionally, CareerTech will use these new investments to increase student participation in CareerTech offerings by 5 percent statewide; increase industry credentials by 10 percent; increase the number of students seeking postsecondary education or training by 5 percent; and increase our contribution to the goals of Complete College America by 10 percent.

The CareerTech system embraces innovation, collaboration and performance. At Tulsa Tech, recent examples include partnering with our area high schools to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics education output to more than 1,000 students completing pre-engineering, biomedical sciences and applied engineering technology programs in just two years and the creation of an aerospace academy that will allow high school students to attain technical skills, industry internships and academic credit aligned with aerospace careers.

Oklahoma is at the precipice of diversifying its economy and expanding jobs with attainable and practical hands-on education that bring a high return on investment. We must expand access to these opportunities by increasing state funding for CareerTech education so that our vision to provide a quality job for every Tulsa Tech student and a skilled workforce for every company in our region can become a reality.

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