TWIN FALLS — A bill moving through the state Legislature would allow high school students to use state money to pay for workforce training programs like apprenticeships.
Senate Bill 1105 was introduced Feb. 11 and the full Senate approved it 35-0 on Feb. 25. On Wednesday, the House Education Committee passed the bill and now it’s slated to head to the full House.
It would allow students to use state Advanced Opportunities money to pay for career technical education workforce training — opportunities that aren’t attached to college credit. That could include “federally registered apprenticeships,” according to the bill draft.
Under the Senate bill, courses must be provided by an Idaho public technical college; lead to an industry-recognized certificate, license or degree; be for occupations regionally in demand; and classes can’t be already available at a student’s high school.
Brandi Turnipseed, executive director of workforce development at the College of Southern Idaho, said she sees the proposal as an opportunity to reach students who may not be planning to go to college.
Offerings allow students to gain a credential or job skills that lead to employment in high-wage, high-demand occupations, Turnipseed said. Apprenticeships, she said, are the best example of that and carry state or national certifications with them.
The change would also mean coordinating between CSI’s workforce training programs and CSI’s career/technical degree programs for students who want to further their education, she said.
CSI offers apprenticeships in areas such as electrician, plumbing, HVAC, maintenance and machine operator.
“We’re working on so many more right now,” Turnipseed said.
CSI doesn’t currently market its workforce training programs to high school students, she said, because the teens don’t have a funding mechanism to cover the cost.
Last year, however, CSI’s workforce development program did reach 54 high school students. Of those, 40 were through the certified nursing assistant program, which is considered a workforce training program but also carries college credit.
Shoshone School District Superintendent Rob Waite said he supports the state’s “go on” initiative to encourage more high schoolers to pursue higher education, but “the reality is not every student is going to Harvard.”
There are a lot of vocational-type jobs in the Magic Valley, Waite said. “I think if that’s where the jobs are, we in the education system should prepare our kids for that.”
From the Twin Falls School District’s perspective, post-secondary education isn’t just about students going on to a college or university, but also includes “workforce-oriented pathways,” district spokeswoman Eva Craner said. “There’s not always opportunities at the high school level for students to get that kind of training.”
The proposal would open up more options for students interested in very specific career pathways, Craner said, and allow them to “get some of it under their belt as high schoolers.”
Proposed legislation would provide interesting opportunities for CSI’s workforce training programs, said Jonathan Lord, associate dean of early college at CSI.
It could mean offering new courses or redesigning existing ones, he said. But if the proposed legislation becomes a reality, “I don’t know that it will get a lot more students on our campus right away.”
Todd Schwarz, executive vice president at CSI, testified in favor of the Senate Bill before the Senate Education Committee.
Through the state’s Advanced Opportunities program, every public school student can receive up to $4,125 to use from seventh through 12th grades to pay for college-level classes.
In particular, dual credit classes — where high schoolers earn high school and college credit simultaneously — are gaining popularity. Those include in career/technical education fields, with opportunities on the CSI campus and at high schools. More than 50 percent of the student headcount at CSI is now made up of dual credit students.
In Shoshone — which has about 500 students in kindergarten through 12th grades — school employees and the school board have spent a lot of time looking into how to prepare students for the types of jobs here in the Magic Valley and Idaho.
“I’m all for anything that gets us toward vocational programs and training,” Waite said.
Shoshone wants to add more vocational programs, but doesn’t have the building space right now to make that happen, he said.
For the last two years, Shoshone has had one student annually go through the electrician apprenticeship program at CSI.
“That’s a really good program,” Waite said. “Our kids are enjoying it and they’re on their way to becoming an electrician.”