State cuts nearly half of money for vocational education
As Hailee Overton and Jasmine Whitacre, freshmen at Prescott Unified School District, worked on their social media project in their information technology class, they looked up sites like Twitter and LinkedIn.
"The big project is to explain how and why we use social media," Overton said. At the other end of the room, James Crane and Josh Armes, sophomores, discussed how each site is used by businesses as they put together their PowerPoint presentation.
The class is one of four career and technical programs offered to Prescott High School students on campus as part of the Mountain Institute Joint Technical Education District, said Laurie Dreher, JTED coordinator for Prescott Unified School District. State budget cuts eliminated $30 million to 13 JTED districts statewide to fund freshmen in vocational education programs like these, cutting the Mountain Institute JTED's budget nearly in half.
"We had a $1.7 million operating budget last year, which was our second year in existence," said Ray Polvani, superintendent of the Mountain Institute JTED. "The cuts reduced our budget by 48 percent, or about $800,000."
At the time, Gov. Jan Brewer said the cuts to vocational education were critical to avoid deeper cuts to money for public schools. But Polvani said cutting funding for vocational education is short sighted, because the demand for skilled workers continues to increase, even in this economy.
Despite the state budget cuts, Mountain Institute JTED continues to provide all their programs this year because of the availability of funding for districts that experienced sudden growth in the past year, Polvani said.
"We grew by a lot of students, which qualified us for special supplemental sudden growth funds," Polvani said.
Polvani noted that at the end of last year, 2,600 students were enrolled in Mountain Institute JTED, including freshmen. This year, Polvani estimates that by the end of September they'll have between 1,600 to 1,800 students enrolled.
Freshmen still are able to take JTED classes using district technical education funding, but the state is no longer providing money for freshmen to take JTED classes, Polvani said.
Cutting funding for freshmen means one less year for students to learn if these fields are a good fit for them, Polvani said, who added that what students think a career is like can sometimes be different from their experience learning about it or having an internship in it.
"If we can't enroll freshmen, we'll make a concerted effort to make sure their parents, the students, and the schools know who we are, what we offer, and know the prerequisites for the programs they're interested in so that they can enroll as sophomores and juniors," Polvani said.
But the sudden growth funds that helped this year may not be available next year, unless the district experiences another increase in students. "At year end, we'll evaluate and determine if we need to cut down on programs due to funding," Polvani said.
Polvani said at that point, they may have to approach school districts who see the value in their offerings to see if they can pick up portions of that funding, but school districts are already struggling. "The budget cuts have changed our ability to make a difference over time," Polvani said. "It handicaps our ability to move forward."
Polvani noted that students involved with JTED have a 90 percent high school graduation rate compared to the 73 percent high school graduation rate for students not in JTED programs.