by Hans D. Stroo on February 15, 2016

On February 2nd, the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Committee was packed with businesses, educators, parents, and students who came to testify in support of Senate Bill 6415, a bill to fund career-connected learning for middle- and high-school students. All told, there were 21 people signed in to testify on the bill; all of them supporters. One of the bill’s primary sponsors, Democratic Senator Christine Rolfes, stated that the bill emerged from a “collaborative approach to getting CTE programs up to the standard of funding where they’d been before the recession hit in 2010.”

SB 6415 addresses the funding gap for Washington’s K-12 career & technical education (CTE). Once upon a time, CTE programs received enhanced funding to provide for expensive equipment funding, specialized instruction, and smaller class sizes. An established multiplier defined CTE funding as an enhanced version of basic education funding. In recent years, CTE was de-linked from basic ed. funding which discourages schools from offering Career Tech courses.

Here’s a sampling of some Career Tech supporters who turned out to testify before the Senate committee in support of the legislation.



Cameron, a student at Bremerton’s West Sound Technical Skills Center, described having a rough time in traditional high school. He was unengaged and failing classes when a counselor introduced him to the idea of continuing his education at a Skills Center. Cameron entered into a welding program where his orientation towards school transformed. He was excited to attend classes and learn a valuable skill through hands-on experience.

Cameron began the welding program early in 2015. He’s already seeing the need for enhanced funding. “Sometimes we have to go to class and just sit in the room because there’s no gas to power the welders,” he told the Committee. “And if a welder breaks that the teacher can’t fix, we have no one to come fix it… Because the school can’t afford to send someone.”

“It would really help if we got your support for additional funding to bring back gasses and materials and stuff,” the student testified. “It’d be nice to go out there and work on stuff.. I think it’d bring a lot of people back to the Skill Center who are dropping out of high school if they see that they now have the needed materials.”

Nick, another student at West Sound Technical Skills Center, testified about his experiences and support for the legislation.

“Sophomore year was when I had my first tour of West Sound Tech and from there on my life changed. From growing up as hands-on kid outside working in the yard or helping take apart engines in my grandpa’s shop, I knew I would never be able to work in an office type environment. When I enrolled into the welding program at West Sound, I realized it was [preparing me for] a work environment. I was learning employability skills, leadership skills, and hands on training that directly applies to my life situation. From welding there for two years I know have a job lined up as an ironworker/welder… If West Sound Tech was not an option for me, I would have no clue what I would want to do for the rest of my life. I’m here because this bill is really important to the future of this state… Thank you for your consideration of SB 6415. The future of non-college bound kids is at stake.”

Sam is in the Dental Assistant program at the Yakima Valley Technical Skills Center. His testimony helped illustrate the diversity of CTE programs. They go well beyond construction and manufacturing job skills. Sam described his CTE experience, which involved a 90 hour internship with an orthodontist. “The only way I was successful doing that is because I had the hands-on experience that Yakima Valley Tech offers. We get to work with expensive equipment seen in the offices of orthodontist, dentists, and surgeons. If we don’t get that training and exposure, and we go into an internship where we’re expected to use the equipment, then we won’t succeed.

Sam observed that his CTE coursework enabled him to get maximum benefit from his internship. “Those without the hands-on experience get trained to use equipment during internships and by the time they’re up to speed, they’re leaving. For us, that training period was done in class, not in the internship.” Sam reported that the CTE enhancement was essential to funding a classroom with the necessary high end equipment: X-rays, sensors, and digital devices. 


COLLEEN mcaleer

Colleen is President of the Washington Business Alliance. She’s also a Commissioner at the Port of Port Angeles. She testified as to the large business need for fixing the CTE funding formula.

“A small handful of industry members and trade associations will speak to you today on this issue,” Colleen told the Committee. “They represent concerns shared by thousands of businesses across five industry sectors – Construction, manufacturing, maritime, healthcare, and aerospace. They have asked us to lead a coalition to inform and celebrate the educational path that Career & Technical Education offers.”

“Business needs excited and prepared young adults ready-to-launch into apprenticeships, certificate programs, or 1- and 2-year degree programs, not just 4-year universities. Companies are willing to do their part to invest in local school programs.  But the funding needs to be allocated so schools will train our kids to be the workforce of tomorrow: productive, globally competitive, productive, and anchored by the success of a large middle class…

This is the greatest barrier to success for many businesses in our state. It is not taxes, it is not regulation; it is the lack of qualified middle-skill workers.

We need your support to compete on the global stage. Approving this funding will provide businesses the talent pipeline needed to grow, which in turn will provide young people with opportunities to enter living wage jobs. It is vital to the future of our state.”

NATALIE mcnair-huff

Natalie is Director of Government & Community Relations at True Blue, a temporary staffing and permanent recruiting company. In 2015 they placed over 12,500 temp. workers and filled 1,500 permanent positions across Washington State.

“We need workers now,” McNair-Huff testified. “And we need workers 5-10 years from now. And we need workers 20 years from now… We could place hundreds of skilled carpenters, CNC machine operators, electricians, HVAC technicians, and specialized welders in the state. 

“When [True Blue] needs workers our customers need them even more… This is a severe problem in part because during the 1980s and 1990s, blue collar work really started getting demonized in high school career counseling… If you go into CTE, you’re going to have a good career. The problem is we’ve removed that funding particularly from middle and high schools… I’m asking you to please support this bill as the very first step in enhancing CTE in Washington State.”


Julie Salvi

Julie is a lobbyist representing teachers. She spoke on behalf of the Washington Education Association.

“We support the increase to the [Materials, Supplies, and Operating Cost formula] for CTE and Skill Center programs to catch them up with increases that have been seen in the general education programs and to recognize their higher costs.”

Tim Knue

Tim is the Executive Director of the Washington Association for Career & Technical Education (WA-ACTE). Tim’s organization represents technical educators across Washington State. Reached for comment on SB 6415, Knue provided context for the bill:

“Going forward the budget does not include the necessary funding MSOC enhancement for Career and Technical Education in high schools. As a result, CTE funding will be equal to the Basic Education Allocation when it is fully funded; at that point a district may choose to discontinue expensive programs that have additional requirements for the same revenue.”



A parent named Janea was present to testify about the transformative effect that CTE has had on the trajectory of her child’s education. Her son was struggling in school, she told the Committee, until he began “learning skills that will benefit his future” at the New Market Skill Center. Janea said the hands-on learning style available at Skill Centers was a real match for her child. “College was not an option three months ago, but it is now.