The state of Idaho is attempting to address workforce shortages by investing in middle and high school career technical education programs.
As of Nov. 13, $35.8 million of the available $45 million in funding through the Idaho Career Ready Students program has been awarded to school districts across the Gem State, says Marie Price, a member of the Idaho Career Ready Students council who lives in Dalton Gardens and works in Coeur d’Alene.
Price says she expects the remaining $9.2 million to be distributed by year-end.
The program is designed to support mostly rural and remote school districts with funding for career technical education, says Price, who is also the director for training and development with Idaho Forest Group LLC.
“Having a new funding opportunity within the state will help these smaller schools that have smaller classes get a head start on being able to teach their students real-world skills that are applicable right when they finish high school,” she says. “Rural and remote schools often have a harder time accessing funds.”
Idaho Gov. Brad Little signed House Bill No. 267 into law on March 31, creating the Idaho Career Ready Students program.
The one-time, $45 million investment—administered through the Idaho State Department of Education—is prioritized for in-demand and highly skilled career training, specifically in welding, fabrication, machining, agriculture, forestry, mining, nursing, cybersecurity, and other trades, according to the program’s website.
“This program allows schools to tailor their career technical education offerings to the unique needs of their communities,” says Debbie Critchfield, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, in a press release.
Since the Career Ready Students program is a one-time investment, Price says she doesn’t know if or when there will be similar funding opportunities for career technical education in the future.
“It remains to be seen,” she says. “We likely will demonstrate that there is a great need. For example, over $111 million in grant requests were received by Nov. 1, and of that, only $35 million has been awarded.”
With many industries facing skilled labor shortages, it is difficult for communities in rural areas to meet the needs of the industries they depend on, Price says, citing the logging industry as an example.
“Right now, the logging workforce’s average age is in the mid-40s,” Price says. “Getting students interested in helping with managing and harvesting timber … it’s really important.”
In North Idaho, St. Maries Joint School District, in Benewah County, has been awarded a $1.3 million grant for a multiprogram facility that will include a natural resources and forestry program, as well as an auto mechanics program, Price says.
West Bonner County School District received a $725,000 grant for a natural resources pathway program.
In Shoshone County, Mullan School District was awarded $61,000 for welding equipment upgrades, and Wallace School District was awarded $23,000 for welding and woodshop equipment upgrades, says Price.
None of the school districts in Kootenai County have received or requested funding through the Career Ready Students program, Price says.
School districts submit applications to request funding through the program. The program’s council, which is chaired by Critchfield, has developed bylaws, determined eligibility requirements, and ensured that grant applicants understood the intent of the Career Ready Students legislation.
The top goal of the program, Price says, is to serve the students of Idaho.
“The students have opportunities to explore careers and build skills that are needed in the workforce and feel that they can come away from school with a certificate of completion and actual skills that they can put to work right away,” Price says. “More students are going to be prepared for great jobs.”
The program also has been met with support from employers in the industries it’s intended to serve, she says.
“What it does for industry and employers is they have better relationships with schools, and it helps the schools and the teachers to understand what the needs are,” says Price.
Employers see the legislation as an opportunity to help build a pathway from schools to careers, Price says.
“The majority of funding proposals had a number of employer letters of recommendation or letters of support,” says Price. “A lot of employers are actually donating equipment or supplies or volunteers.”
One expected result of the program is that more students will be taking and completing career technical education courses, Price says.
“I believe that they’re going to see a significant return on investment in terms of students staying in school, completing school, and moving on into jobs that are available in our local communities,” she says.
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