Bill to encourage tech careers advances in House

The House Education Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would tweak the state’s school and district rating system to give credit for high school graduates who move into career training programs, as well as those who attend college.

The measure, House Bill 15-1170, is one of several bills related to “workforce development,” a hot topic for both parties in the 2015 legislative session.

The bill also reflects a growing interest among some lawmakers and policymakers to broaden the definition of student success to more than just attending and finishing college.

“This bill redefines the meaning of success after high school and fills Colorado top jobs with skilled workers,” said sponsor Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada. “We’ve incentivized our schools to send kids to four-year colleges.” Under HB 15-1170, “Schools get credit if kids are going into any of these viable careers.”

Since passage of the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids in 2008, the focus of state education policy has been assuring that students are “postsecondary and workforce ready” by the time they leave high school. But many advocates feel workforce readiness has taken a back seat to preparing students for college.

The current state accountability system rates high schools’ postsecondary and workforce readiness performance using student ACT scores, dropout rates and graduation rates.

HB 15-1170 would add these indicators: The percentages of graduates who enroll in career and technical education programs, community college or four-year colleges in the school year immediately following graduation. Each enrollment option would be given equal weight in calculating school performance.

Witnesses representing community colleges, vocational schools and business groups supported the bill during testimony.

Luke Ragland, lobbyist for Colorado Succeeds, a business-oriented advocacy group, said, “The current system doesn’t adequately prepare students for the modern workforce. … Aligning our accountability system is an important change.”

The bill also would strengthen business representation on district and school accountability committees.

The measure passed 10-1, with only Rep. Justin Everett, R-Jefferson County, voting no. It goes next to the House Appropriations Committee because of its $232,848 price tag. That would cover the staffing costs of a new office in the Department of Labor and Employment to coordinate efforts to expand career and technical education.

Among other workforce bills involving education are House Bill 15-1190, which would provide state assistance to districts in focusing on workforce needs, and Senate Bill 15-082, which is designed to increase scholarship funding for career and technical students.

Use the Education Bill Tracker for links to detailed information about every 2015 bill related to education.