New law offering apprentice scholarships aims to narrow talent gap

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Starting next year, a new program will allow eligible high school students to receive up to $5,000 in state funding to “shop” for work-based learning experiences to help them earn a post-secondary credential before graduation.

Chuck Goodrich

Supporters say the career scholarship accounts are the kind of bold solution needed to address a growing labor shortage in burgeoning industries such as health care, tech and manufacturing.

Without strong action, they say, the condition will continue to worsen as more baby boomers retire and fewer Hoosiers pursue degrees at two- or four-year colleges.

“Taking part in internships, apprenticeships and other work-based learning opportunities can open up new pathways for students to learn skills and prepare for the workforce,” said Rep. Chuck Goodrich, R-Noblesville, the president of Indianapolis-based contractor Gaylor Electric who authored legislation that establishes CSAs. “This bill is a big step in the right direction to ensure Hoosier students are better prepared for jobs today and into the future.”

While the approach has the support of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and many other business interests, some public-school advocates oppose it.

Marilyn Shank

“This is a privatization effort,” said Marilyn Shank, vice president of the Indiana Coalition for Public Education. “Instead of working with Indiana’s existing career and tech system, which has been tested and improved year after year, this bill would start a whole new set of programs that duplicate something that is already going on.”

Many details regarding the program’s implementation will be worked out over the next several months as part of a Republican vision to reinvent high school.

Overall administration of the program will fall to the Indiana Treasurer of State, while the Department of Education and Commission for Higher Education will be tasked with approving the program’s career courses and apprenticeships.

In a joint statement, spokespersons for both education agencies said they are working with other state officials to “carefully interpret House Enrolled Act 1002 to develop administrative procedures and preliminary guidance for the CSA Program as well as implement the act’s many other provisions.”

The new law requires the Indiana State Board of Education to establish high school diploma standards that allow students to use work-based learning experiences toward graduation requirements. Public high schools will be required to hold at least one career fair a year.

Final language also included the addition of a “career awareness” class to high school students’ course requirements, a move the Indy Chamber called “a straightforward and highly impactful step to assist students in selecting their career pathways.”

School corporations have until July 1, 2024, to comply with the new provisions. The Indiana State Teachers Association, the state’s largest teachers union representing public-school educators, advocated for a slower rollout.

“The implementation timeline was something that we think could have been slowed down, partly because students already start picking their fall courses for the next school year in the spring,” said ISTA lobbyist John O’Neal. “We’ve had a lot of pretty large-scale changes in education here in recent years, and so, on top of all the other new requirements and graduation pathways that schools are having to adapt to on the fly, now we have one more thing to add to that.”

To qualify for a career scholarship, students must create a postsecondary plan with a counselor. The new state budget sets aside $15 million for the scholarships over the next two years.

The CSA program also allots $5 million for “intermediary” organizations to connect students with companies looking for workers. The intermediaries can include business and trade associations, not-for-profits, workforce development boards and labor organizations. Groups that want to become an intermediary need approval from the Commission for Higher Education.

Goodrich, the lawmaker who authored the career scholarship program bill, has acknowledged that his company has a partnership with a private school that offers students a chance to work alongside Gaylor Electric employees to gain business experience. But he told The Indianapolis Star earlier this year that he hadn’t considered whether Gaylor could get money from the program.

Goodrich last week announced he will seek the Republican nomination for Indiana’s 5th congressional district.

While state senators added language that offered a clearer definition for an intermediary organization, that language was utlimately taken out despite having support from the Indiana Chamber.

Jason Bearce

“Our perspective was that it would be ideal to have a clear role for the [career scholarships] to make sure there’s no inadvertent conflict between existing sources and that we’re really clear on what need or gap a new funding vehicle would fulfill,” said Jason Bearce, vice president of education and workforce development for the Indiana Chamber.

O’Neal, the ISTA lobbyist, said lawmakers should be putting more funding directly into K-12 classrooms instead of deferring to the private sector.

“We feel that it diverts tax dollars into these separate, siloed funds,” he said. “You’re taking more pieces of the pie away from what’s available to traditional public-school programs.”

The Republican-dominated Legislature did increase funding for public-school districts 5.4% in the next fiscal year and 1.3% in the year after that. But the voucher program for private-school attendance is set to consume $500 million of the nearly $1.5 billion increase for general K-12 funding over the next two years.

Some public-education advocates say the new program merely duplicates existing career and technical education programs and outsources public education to the private sector by diverting money to intermediary organizations.

They note that existing high school programs already help prepare students for careers ranging from health care to building trades to law enforcement.

“It’s brand new, it’s untested, and there’s a lot of questions that haven’t been answered,” Shank said. “It took a long time to build this CTE system and make it work as well as it has. Why abandon something that has proven to work and use taxpayer dollars for it?”

But many Republican lawmakers argue that more needs to be done quickly to close the gaps in Indiana’s workforce.

Indiana’s college-going rate dropped from 65% in 2015 to 53% in 2020, and three of four businesses surveyed by the Indiana Chamber said they were forced to leave positions open last year due to a lack of qualified applicants.•

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