Vocational education funding in limbo

Powell district considering not taking federal funds due to ‘outlandish’ requirements

Posted 3/24/20

Due to new regulations, the Powell school district may not seek some federal funding for its career and technical education (CTE) classes, such as ag, culinary arts, computer science and wood …

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Vocational education funding in limbo

Powell district considering not taking federal funds due to ‘outlandish’ requirements


Due to new regulations, the Powell school district may not seek some federal funding for its career and technical education (CTE) classes, such as ag, culinary arts, computer science and wood shop.

The Perkins grant has provided around $45,000-$50,000 toward Powell’s vocational education programs each year. However, under a proposed plan being considered by the Wyoming State Board of Vocational Education, school districts would have to jump through new hoops to obtain Perkins V funding. For example, CTE teachers would be required to complete a 100-hour externship — working in an industry setting — over the course of five years.

“The strings that they have now attached to this Perkins money have become so outlandish that [multiple] districts in the state are considering not taking the funds,” Park County School District No. 1 Superintendent Jay Curtis recently told the school board.

Curtis also is concerned that Powell’s largest CTE programs — agriculture and culinary arts — would no longer be eligible to receive Perkins funds. The new guidelines require programs to go through a three-prong test showing that they prepare students for jobs that are high demand, high skill and high paying, Curtis said. A program must meet two of the three to qualify for Perkins V funding and he believes only computer science and graphic arts would make the cut.

“The way we understand the plan is that agriculture will not be funded on this,” Curtis said.

Given the local economy and heritage, that’s a concern for Powell school leaders: Ag is “what we do in Powell,” Curtis said.

He noted the district is moving forward with an ag facility — with the hope to build this year — and he said the program generally has had the largest number of students among Powell’s CTE programs.

A local needs assessment, required by the Perkins V plan, will help the district determine how the funds would be expended, said assistant superintendent Jason Sleep. That assessment should be completed in April.

“We know this will be a process in deciding to take the Perkins V funds due to the fact we don’t have all the information,” Sleep said last month.

The district won’t know its preliminary Perkins allocation until the end of March, and also is waiting to see how the Perkins V plan may change.

Not everyone sees the new requirements the same way.

Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, said he thinks agriculture would meet two of the three criteria to be funded through Perkins V.

“They can’t say that ag is not a program that they could fund,” he said.

While Powell district leaders also worry culinary arts would not qualify for funding, Laursen said he believes that program would meet the new criteria as well. His wife teaches culinary arts at Powell High School.

Laursen said it concerns legislators that school districts could lose Perkins V funding.

“Hopefully they’re still thinking about it,” he said. “We definitely don’t want CTE to go backwards.”

Curtis — a former CTE teacher — said the district’s decision on whether or not to take the Perkins grant “has absolutely no bearing on our support for our career technical education programs.”

“We are going to fund and support those programs no matter what kind of federal funds are available, because we believe they give students tools to be successful after they leave our halls,” Curtis said.


More work than

it’s worth?

Federal funds are supposed to be a supplement, he said. With all of the new strings attached to Perkins V money, Curtis said the district must analyze the costs and benefits.

“If it costs us more in time and effort to get the money than the money is worth, it doesn’t make sense to take it,” he said.

For comparison, the district has received roughly $45,000 in Perkins and between $500,000 to $600,000 in federal Title I money. However, “the amount of work and requirements for the Perkins funds is much greater than what is required for the money for the federal Title I program,” said Mary Jo Lewis, coordinator of business services.

With all of the proposed regulations, it feels like the district could be spending $5 to make $1, Curtis told the school board.

“I want to be really clear: We are not afraid of work,” he said. “We have done a lot of work for this grant in the past.”

In recent years, the district rotated the Perkins dollars through its CTE programs so they all receive federal funding.

“For the amount of time and effort that we put into the [Perkins] program, we could do a $20,000 set aside in our own general fund and still continue doing the [funding] rotation and benefit all of our programs,” he said.

That would ensure every CTE program receives supplemental funding, and not just a few.

However, Rep. Laursen said if Powell rejects $45,000 in Perkins funding and then spends $20,000 from its own general fund, “they’re losing $65,000.”

“It adds up,” he said.

Laursen also believes teachers would be willing to do the 100-hour externship training over five years.

“That would be nothing — 20 hours per year,” he said, noting teachers would be paid $35 per hour.

While all local teachers complete professional development, the externship requirement is unique to CTE. The new Perkins V plan “holds CTE teachers to a standard so far above and beyond what we hold all of our other teachers to,” Curtis said.

Other Wyoming districts have also voiced concerns over the new requirements, and there’s been talk about making externships optional.

“If we have a teacher who wants to go do that, we would absolutely support that,” Curtis said.

The Department of Education has been visiting with districts about the Perkins V plan and their concerns, Laursen said.

“I think the Department of Ed will come around with some of this stuff,” Laursen said.


State board to

take action

The State Board of Education will meet Thursday via Zoom to hear public comment on the Perkins V plan and consider approving it. The board will convene as the Wyoming State Board of Vocational Education.

Forrest Smith of Powell, who serves on the state board, said he’s heard the concern: “Is it worth the grant money that’s coming in for all the paperwork that’s going out?”

While he thinks there are possibly “great opportunities” with Perkins, Smith said the board wants to have a clear view of requirements at the federal and state levels.

“The bottom line is, we just need to understand it a little bit more — what’s it going to be?” Smith said.

With the externships, he said it’s important to have “a clear vision so the teachers know what they’re required to do.”

Smith’s own career traces back to CTE — his innovative gluten-free oats project as a Powell High School student led to the creation of the business GF Harvest, which he co-owns.

He said it’s important for students to pursue their passions, and not to feel like they have to go to college.

“Are we pushing our kids to get a degree just to get a degree?” Smith asked. “And then they have a whole amount of debt on their heads and not know what they want to do.”

Students should get a road map for how to reach their goals — whether it’s to become a plumber or go into culinary arts, he said.

Superintendent Curtis said Powell district leaders are going to wait and see what happens with the Perkins plan, and hope changes allow the district to spend the grant on programs “that we feel are necessary and vital.”

“Clearly, we always like utilizing every possible resource that is available to us to support our kids. However, we also have to measure the costs,” Curtis said, adding, “In the end, we’re going to do what we think is best for our programs, and we’re going to support those programs no matter what.”

Smith said he and other State Board of Education members want to keep the focus on what’s best for kids.

“In the end, the people that it’s going to affect most are the kids,” Smith said. “So we want to make sure that as we’re going forward that we’re doing a good service to them and not making something that’s taking more time to do than is actually worth.”