VA Mercury Column: Bills to bolster career and technical education falter in General Assembly
Nathaniel Cline - 2.23.23
Efforts to strengthen Virginia’s career and technical education mostly failed in the General Assembly this session, despite Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s goal of having every high school senior graduate with an industry-recognized credential.
”This whole idea of utilizing these great assets and education we have, but getting them to work together is what I think we can do to make this easier for families and have truth in advertising,” said Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico. “If you think you’re getting college credit in high school, it ought to count to your college. Let’s fix all of that and make it so that you abbreviate the time it takes to get to whatever you want to do with your life.”
This December, Youngkin proposed putting an extra $21 million toward the Virginia Community College System to expand dual enrollment programs that allow high school students to take college-level courses or classes that count toward industry credentials.
Macaulay Porter, a spokeswoman for the governor, said the administration has seen “strong bipartisan recognition” that Virginia needs a comprehensive workforce development strategy, a goal other bills moving forward this session are attempting to meet through the creation of a new Department of Workforce Development and Advancement.
During a business event in October, Youngkin said addressing educational opportunities is key to expanding and retaining Virginia’s workforce.
Most legislation specifically aimed at expanding career and technical education in Virginia failed during the past two months, however.
They included bills to expand the state’s tuition assistance program for community college students interested in high-demand industries and to develop guidelines for “advanced academic opportunity programs,” which include courses that provide opportunities to demonstrate college and career readiness.
Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Richmond, carried the tuition assistance bill, which would have convened a work group to issue recommendations on how Virginia could expand its current assistance program, known as “Get a Skill, Get a Job, Get Ahead,” or G3.
“We should be studying the ways in which G3 can be expanded to our transfer degree programs,” Hashmi told a House education subcommittee, which later killed the bill with no discussion. “As we know, in health care the two-year degree is an excellent start, but many students want to continue forward and receive their four-year degree so they can build on their credentials and so they can also advance in their career options.”
Legislation from Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia-Beach, that would have allowed students working toward an advanced studies diploma to replace foreign language credits with career and technical education credits also failed.
Under the Board of Education’s current policy, students must complete three years of one language or two years of two languages to earn an advanced studies diploma.
Davis’ bill passed the House but was killed by a Senate education subcommittee last week, with some lawmakers voicing concerns over removal of the language requirement.
Hashmi said while policymakers should aim to remove the stigma sometimes associated with careers that don’t involve college, “removing foreign language is probably not the way.”
However, Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, argued the legislation would not have removed the foreign language requirement entirely, but instead would have created a separate category of advanced diplomas.
“I took five years of French and I could not order a glass of water in France if I were able to get there today,” Peake said. “My teachers were great, and I appreciate and enjoy taking it, but if I could weld, I’d be making a whole lot more money now than if I were a lawyer.”
One proposal that remains alive, House Bill 1887 from Del. Kathy Byron, R-Bedford, would encourage local school boards and community colleges to craft agreements aimed at ensuring adjunct community college instructors are offered competitive salaries. The aim would be to increase the number of instructors available to help prepare students to earn workforce credentials.
“It’s something we’re going to need,” Byron said, adding that the legislation could help fill vacancies in rural communities.