- The Washington Times - Monday, February 10, 2020

The Department of Education is aiming to provide more funds for high schoolers to learn welding, nursing, construction and other trades while cutting its overall spending by 8%.

In its fiscal 2021 budget released Monday, the department includes a 79% increase — up to $2.1 billion — for grants and program that will answer Secretary Betsy DeVos’ call to “rethink” worker training by starting vocational development at younger ages, said Scott Stump, assistant secretary for career, technical and adult education.

“They’re having to turn away students because there is just not the capacity,” Mr. Stump said, referring to colleges and high schools that provide vocational programs.

Mr. Stump defended an ambitious plan to build welding simulators or medical training simulators to encourage students to pursue careers that pay well and don’t require college degrees or rack up crippling debt.

Currently, fewer than 40% of U.S. students are taking courses that would require two or more career and technical education (CTE) classes, such as industrial or culinary arts, agriculture and computer-aided design, according to the Education Department.

“We need to expand those numbers greatly to get those students on those paths earlier,” said Mr. Stump, who said he toured last week an Indiana high school where a student had an internship with a local airport and now is working on earning her pilot’s license.

The department’s 2021 budget would make good on a promise President Trump highlighted last week in his State of the Union address, in which he announced plans to bring “to offer vocational and technical education in every single high school in America.”

According to an Education Department fact sheet, the CTE budget request would boost spending by nearly $900 million and increase fees for foreigners seeking HB-1 visas. That means the process U.S. companies use to fill jobs with foreign workers would fund more than $100 million for CTE-related state grants.

“Our budget is about one thing — putting students and their needs above all else,” Mrs. DeVos said.

A 2019 report from Advance CTE, an advocacy group, shows that work-based learning, dual enrollment and early college programs emphasizing industry trades were created in more than 40 states. For example, Mississippi provided schools with $600 grants for every student earning a qualifying credential in a trade. Vermont began a program to engender more students to apprenticeship training.

“The roughly 200 CTE-related policies enacted in nearly every state highlight just how important CTE is to learners and the 21st century economy,” said LeAnn Wilson, executive director of Advance CTE.

Advocacy groups say students enrolled in vocational coursework ultimately earn more and are more likely to attend college within eight years than students not enrolled in CTE classes.

In a statement Monday, American Federation for Teachers President Randi Weingarten slammed the department’s budget proposal, accusing the Trump administration of putting “things that matter most to Americans” on the budgetary “chopping block.”

Rep. John Yarmuth, Kentucky Democrat and chairman of the House Budget Committee, issued a statement criticizing the budget proposal for its deep cuts to social services.

“Judging by initial reporters, this destructive and irrational president is giving us a destructive and irrational budget,” Mr. Yarmuth said.

• Christopher Vondracek can be reached at cvondracek@washingtontimes.com.

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