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Ed Massey: Career and Technical Education working group highlights progress, need for reform

As a former school board member and someone with a lifelong passion for education, I am honored to serve as a member of the Kentucky General Assembly’s Career and Technical Education Task Force. Our working group meets monthly to hear testimony from state officials and educators, as well as to study the best methods for improvement to our system of career and technical education.

The need to prioritize workforce development has never been greater then it is now, as we have record low unemployment, surging economic investment, and thousands of unfilled jobs. Thankfully, the working group put together by House Speaker David Osborne and Senate President Robert Stivers is doing just that. Without a doubt, our schools play a strong role in meeting the needs of our growing economy and job market.

There has been a successful push in recent years to expand career-based education, in large part through the Area Technology Centers (ATCs) in school districts across the state. These centers are instrumental in providing high school students with training for jobs that are critical to competing in the 21st-Century economy, including areas like nursing and welding.

Rep. Ed Massey

We are leading the way in this innovative education system right here in Northern Kentucky, with outstanding vocational training programs and partnerships between our high schools and Gateway Community and Technical College. Significant progress has been made in creating more opportunities for our students to dive into higher education or the workforce with real-world skills, and our educators and programs here are second to none.

But as we have learned, more must be done to make our ATCs more focused, effective, and equitable. It is critical that we provide the skills provided by these centers to every single high school student in Kentucky so that high-quality instruction knows no geographic boundaries. The programs offered by a career-focused curriculum offer a chance to set students on a path to lifelong achievement. But we must ensure that all students are being well served by proper oversight, funding, and curriculum.

As of now, inequities and inefficiencies do exist that hold us back. For example, while funding is not all that is needed for quality instruction, it is necessary and, unfortunately, in short supply. This is particularly true for many of Kentucky’s locally-operated career and vocational centers, who currently face a funding disparity with state-operated ATCs.

We have also discussed providing more efficiencies throughout our CTE programs, including incentivizing regional cooperation and, with that, shared governance among school districts. We must balance the reality of tight budgets with our responsibility to ensure that all students have access to these courses. I believe that we can move the ball forward with these goals, and other commonsense improvements, with the support of both Democrats and Republicans.

In the same spirit of bipartisanship that this task force is operating, I was proud to bring both parties together during the 2019 session to ensure financial support for the area technology center shared by Boone and Kenton Counties, the Ignite Institute. This collaborative project benefits both counties, even though the physical building is in Boone County, and my HB 444 was instrumental in expanding innovative education opportunities in Northern Kentucky by allowing dollars to follow Kenton County students.

The jobs of the 21st Century are not going to wait for Kentucky to catch up. We must seize this opportunity to train our students for what lies beyond, and continue our momentum in career and technical training. Reforms that build on improvements to our schools will not only provide more educational opportunity but will knock down lifelong barriers to employment. As lawmakers, that would be a worthwhile goal for us to hang our hat on.

Rep. Ed Massey represents the 66th House District, which includes part of Boone County, and serves on the General Assembly’s Career and Technical Education Task Force. He can be reached through the LRC message line at 1-800-372-718, or by email at Ed.Massey@lrc.ky.gov.

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