Career technical education (CTE) in California has been in jeopardy for the past three decades, as politicians have placed greater emphasis on competing priorities, including high-stakes testing and accountability that focus on theoretical academics instead of hands-on, industry-relevant skills and dispositions.  As the chart below shows:



Since the “Great Recession”, state CTE funding has been radically altered, resulting in wholesale diversion of vocational education resources.  According to a January 2014 California Department of Education report, in one year, enrollment in high school CTE programs dropped by nearly 50,000 students.  And, the teacher training system at our public universities has produced only one Industrial Tech teacher candidate in the entire CSU system (while the average age of shop class instructors is 59).

How did we get here?

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2007-2008, regional occupational centers and programs (ROCPs) received an annual appropriation of over $480M. This did not include annual appropriations allocated to additional CTE programs (e.g. Partnership Academies; Agriculture Incentive Grants; and Secondary School Programs).

Then the recession hit, and the state scrambled to assist school districts stay financially afloat. One of the outcomes was categorical flexibility, wherein schools could divert their CTE categorical funding toward non-vocational expenses. In addition to “cat flex”, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger cut the ROCP appropriation to approximately $375M.

This reduced level of funding continued as an annual budget line item until the implementation of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) in FY 2013-2014, under Governor Brown. LCFF discontinued the ROCP categorical funding stream altogether. However, high schools were given a $250M “grade-span” adjustment that was ostensibly meant to help defray their CTE program expenses, though no accountability was tied to these funds. Despite the lack of a dedicated state funding stream, districts were asked to continue their FY 2012-13 level of ROCP funding for two additional years (ending June 30, 2015) as part of a “Maintenance of Effort” (MOE).

As part of a compromise reached between the Legislature and Governor Brown, a one-time, Career Pathways Trust Grant of $250M was appropriated in FY 2013-14, later extended an additional year at the same funding level ($250M). While this grant program helped foster new industry partnerships and regional consortia between middle, high school and community colleges, there was scant accountability and state oversight, and there were concerns from the field that affluent districts with the staff capable of producing attractive application packages were disproportionately awarded grants.

These concerns — along with the active lobbying of Get REAL members — led the Brown Administration to establish a 3-year, $900M CTE Incentive Grant, beginning in the 2015-16 school year. These state grants require a local match and are tied to performance standards not unlike the federally funded Carl Perkins grants. These accountability criteria were well known by Perkins recipient schools, and have been well received by the field … so much so, that local districts applied for over twice the state’s offered matching grants in the first year.

Get REAL members will continue to encourage the Governor and Legislature to maintain the state’s role in financially incentivizing districts to build and maintain high-quality, industry-aligned CTE.