As a new member of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee, I was shocked by a recent presentation made to us by Idaho’s STEM Action Center. The report showed that Idaho left more than 6,300 STEM-related jobs (science, technology, engineering and math) unfilled last year. That resulted in $412 million in unpaid wages. That’s almost 100 times the entire budget for the City of Gooding (where I live and work). Those are staggering numbers, not just to a former math teacher like myself, but to Idaho as a whole.
What makes these numbers particularly frustrating is the fact that many can be filled with career-technical training, apprenticeships, certificate courses and two-year degrees. Too many people think you need a fancy degree to get one of those good-paying STEM jobs. But, as a lifetime farmer and rancher, I can tell you that my husband, children and I deal with STEM issues all the time.
You don’t plant anything without knowing the science underlying soil composition and crop yields.
You can’t operate any piece of farm machinery without knowing something about technology and engineering.
And math? Well, farming and ranching is all about math: the price of wheat or cattle, yield per acre, futures contracts, the price of diesel, and so much more.
I was heartened to learn that Idaho’s 2019 Teacher of Year, Marc Beitia from just down the road at American Falls High School, spoke to our Education and Agricultural Affairs committees last week about the importance of career technical education. I was just as pleased that he used the acronym “STEM” to describe the kind of jobs one can get from CTE instruction. Mister Beitia would know a thing or two about the intersection between good-paying STEM jobs and career-technical training. After all, he teaches agricultural education.
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Given this background, and with so much at stake in terms of jobs and wages in this state, I am genuinely alarmed at why the governor is proposing to cut CTE investments in Idaho.
Idaho is in the middle of a job’s crisis. We have been for years. Our “go-on” rate (the percentage of students who get some sort of degree beyond high school) is near the bottom nationally. Every businessperson, educator, lawmaker and policy-maker knows that investing in CTE training is one way to increase our “go-on” rate and put Idahoans into those good-paying jobs that go unfilled every year. Despite this, Governor Little is proposing cuts to CTE education in our state.
As a JFAC member, I get regular updates on budget proposals. The governor’s recommendations for investment in statewide CTE training is $5 million less than what is being requested from those who are actually on the frontlines of Idaho’s statewide CTE training. With regards to Middle School CTE training, the governor recommended investments of $0.00.
As you can imagine, this did not sit well with those of us who want to fill those family-supporting jobs and put Idahoans on the path to success. Apparently, the governor took notice — to a degree. He ended up taking away money from Workforce Readiness grants to add to the Middle School CTE training. This move reminds me of those three-card-Monte games you see in the movies, where you have to “follow the Queen.” It’s the same three cards, the Queen just ends up in a different place each time. That’s a terrible way to formulate an education and jobs plan.
Idaho Democrats have been working for years to implement policies that bring jobs to Idaho, prepare our children to fill those jobs and provide everyone with the tools to succeed in this state. As a rural legislator who represents Camas, Gooding, Lincoln and Blaine counties, I know the value of CTE training and how it can empower the people in my district. In addition to being a farmer and rancher, I am also a retired educator. Like myself and others, it is my sincere hope the governor will rethink his position on CTE investments in the State of Idaho. We all want to bring good-paying jobs and wealth back to this state. Cutting CTE investments is not the way to do it.