Career and technical education suffer funding shortages

CHEYENNE — As many school districts across Wyoming suffer the impacts of funding shortages, their career and technical education programs have not been immune.

Members of the Wyoming Legislature’s Joint Education Committee listened as stakeholders came forward Wednesday afternoon to bring attention to CTE funding issues and to search for solutions. Many said the discrepancy between the Wyoming K-12 funding model and actual career and technical expenditures, as well as the increasingly large class sizes, needed to be addressed first.

Educators, school administrators and advocates said if the committee did not find a way to resolve the pressure these two issues put on districts, the consequences would only worsen in the future.

Some of those repercussions include the inability to recruit and retain CTE teachers, as well as a lack of money for materials such as sheet metal and wood, and updated technology. Witnesses said these issues intertwine with class sizes, safety concerns and the overall educational environment.

“The current shortage of CTE teachers in the state is exacerbating and leading to larger class sizes, particularly in our larger high schools,” said Rob Hill, public policy chairman and president of SkillsUSA and the Wyoming Association for Career and Technical Education. “A high student-to-teacher ratio in CTE courses is problematic because there is limited equipment space and resources.”

The legislative funding model suggests $10,315.40 be allotted per vocational education teacher. But according to the latest continued review of education resources in Wyoming report that was prepared for the committee, school districts are only using 62% of funding recommended in the model.

Wyoming Department of Education CTE State Director Michelle Aldrich confirmed in her testimony that the allocation for CTE supplies and materials is not fully used by districts.

This is due to the decentralized structure in Wyoming’s government, where each school district is given funds-distributing power over money approved by the Legislature biennially. Administrators in earlier Education Committee meetings said other funding shortfalls are often made up in other areas, such as CTE appropriations, because the model is not a set requirement.

While legislators said they understood the negative impacts, some said CTE programs were not the only ones facing adversity.

“The model base salary is now $37,500. It’s actually dropped because we didn’t sustain ECAs (external cost adjustments),” said Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper. “And I don’t think there’s one of the 48 school districts doing a $37,500 base. It just wouldn’t get a teacher.”

Not only does this impact a district’s ability to fund every area at the model level, but Harshman said it makes it harder to hire and keep wages competitive. He said every discipline of educator, such as English and elementary teachers, are experiencing this issue, and they do not have an active group of advocates.

The president of the Wyoming Business Alliance, the director of the Wyoming Mining Association and legislators themselves emphasized the importance of career and technical skills for the workforce, and the need for funding.

“We need all levels of educated folks to power our state,” said Cindy Delancey, WBA president. “We need those petroleum engineers, but we also need our plumbers, electricians, welders and carpenters, and all the wonderful skills that the members of the trades bring to make sure that we’re able to be that envy of our neighbors from an economic standpoint.”