Restructure Texas High School Vocational Education

Texas should restructure its high school vocational education programs to place a greater emphasis on pre- paring students for current and future job markets.


Background
To meet the needs of current and future high school students, Texas vocational education programs should be restructured. Many vocational education courses do not prepare students for jobs that are currently in demand or that will be in demand in the coming decade.

More than half of all students in vocational education courses today are enrolled in consumer home economics and vocational agriculture courses. These courses were designed to prepare future housewives and farmers, which once were in high demand. Today, th ese courses no longer meet students needs or the demands of the modern workplace. Today s students need to learn technical skills that will prepare them for high-wage employment in today s competitive job market.

Vocational education courses, including consumer home economics and vocational agriculture, carry a much higher funding weight in the Kindergarten-12th grade formula funding process than regular academic courses. In fact, vocational courses receive 37 perc ent more funding on average per pupil than academic courses. 1

The rationale for additional funding weights is that vocational education courses require expensive equipment. Thi s rationale is often true, but not always. A recent audit of 55 school districts found that 17 percent of vocational education courses did not require equipment sufficient to justify an added weight. 2 Moreover, vocational education courses increasingly are opting to set laboratory work in the private sector, such as using hospitals for health courses, since equipment has become far more expensive and becomes outdated so quickly. Ironically, physics and chemistry, which actually require expensive laboratories, do not receive any extra funding.

Consumer home economics presents a unique problem compared with other vocational education courses. It duplicates much content offered in other academic courses funded without the extra weight. Other than cooking and sewing, most essential elements in cons umer home economics courses are taught in similar form in health, economics and other courses a clear and expensive case of duplication.

The state has no requirement that vocational education courses relate to the Texas Education Agency s (TEA) priority jobs list or to job demand. Students in vocational education often take courses that are incompatible with the job market.

Furthermore, schools have no incentive to offer vocational courses that are applicable to today s jobs or to offer customized training programs for local businesses and industry. Teachers who do help their students find jobs receive little recognition. Incentives and rewards are used in the state s Successful Schools Awards program to encourage sch ools to improve their academic performance and reward schools with innovative programs that address social issues. If incentives or rewards were provided for vocational education programs that successfully placed graduates in jobs, or for schools that work with local business or industry to offer customized training programs, these programs would be more likely to expand and improve. Additional information on graduates successful, long-term employment is necessary. Beginning this year, it will be possible to track public school graduates employment experience through their social security number. This will allow policy makers the benefit associated with the vocational training provided in schools.

Other states have upgraded their vocational education programs by dropping high school vocational courses and allowing 11th- and 12th-grade students to take them at community colleges. Secondary schools in Boulder, Colorado, bus 500 students every day to n earby community colleges for vocational and technical courses. Schools in New Hampshire have also implemented this idea successfully. This is an idea which should be considered, as a pilot project, for use in Texas vocational education programs. Obviously, the concept needs to be thoroughly tested in Texas where distances are much greater, and a pilot program would provide an appropriate vehicle to accomplish this.

The popularity of certain vocational education courses is often used as a rationale for their continued existence. Supporters argue that vocational education courses help prevent students from dropping out by giving them something more fun to do at school.

As most Texans know, the state is currently in a major school finance crisis. Texas must meet new demands for equity and higher academic standards and outcomes and must prepare all students for a highly competitive job market. To continue funding outdated and duplicative programs at 137 percent of the per-student cost of regular academic courses because they are fun will not forward these goals . To keep students from dropping out, schools need programs that will lead to good jobs or a strong foundation for college.

Upgrading the educational system to meet the demands of a new era may ultimately displace some teachers of home economics, vocational agriculture or other vocational education courses. However, this problem is not unique to the teaching profession or to vo cational education, and it will continue to occur as we move into an era of global competition. As in the case of other displaced workers, the state should offer assistance to retrain those teachers.

An appropriate mechanism for retraining teachers could be to issue them a voucher for a uniform sum of money that could be used at state universities, community colleges or Texas State Technical Colleges (TSTC) for courses that would give them the skills n ecessary to teach other courses, either at the secondary or post-secondary level. Another alternative would be to access the Texas Job Training Fund recommended in another part of this report.

The state s first obligation in providing and maintaining a public education system should be to serve the best interests of its customers the students. Our school system should provide Texas students with the best opportunities possible. Maintaining an archaic education system that inadequately prepares students for future employment simply does not fulfill the state s obligation.


Recommendations
A. The Legislature should reduce funding for high school vocational education courses based on their actual costs.

Recent school audits indicate that 17 percent of vocational education courses do not require the extra funding weight. Those courses should be funded at the same level as regular academic courses.

B. The Legislature should require vocational education courses, if offered in high schools, to be proportionally related to jobs available in the region or on a statewide basis, as listed by the State Occupational Information Coordinating Council (SOICC), to draw state funding.

The SOICC currently provides regional job demand information for 24 Texas regions. The SOICC and TEA s Division of State Funding should develop a methodology for distributing additional state vocational education funds to school districts proportionally based on job demand, either in their region or on a statewide basis, by fiscal 1995. Schools should be required to share job demand information with students taking vocational education courses. Local school districts could continue to offer courses that do not relate to jobs on the regional or statewide priority lists if desired by local taxpayers. However, any additional funding needed over regular academic courses could be supplied by local funds.

C. The Legislature should reward vocational education courses that find jobs for students and efforts to offer customized training programs.

Schools should receive a $50 reward for each student who finds a related job immediately after graduation and retains that job for six months. A reward program also should be esta blished for campuses that work with local business and industry to establish customized training programs as part of their vocational education program. Both rewards could be allocated from Successful Schools Awards funds as an additional performance rewar d for meeting state goals for the placement of vocational education graduates in employment related to their training. Campus committees could then provide for specific recognition of those successful courses and teachers.

D. The Legislature should estab lish a pilot program during the 1994-95 biennium that allows some 11th- and 12th-grade students to attend quality technical programs in areas with Texas State Technical College (TSTC) campuses or local community colleges. A report on the pilot project shou ld be made to the Legislature in January 1995.

Pilot schools should be required to provide transportation for these students. The Legislature should look at the results of this pilot program to determine the long-term effect of allowing secondary school students to take technical and vocational education courses at nearby community colleges, TSTC campuses and at cooperative vocational education centers in geographical areas where students do not have ready access to community colleges.

The Legislature also could provide work options for teachers who might be displaced as a result of recommended changes. For example, teachers could be hired by TSTC, community colleges and cooperative vocational education centers. Some teachers may need a dditional training to teach at the community college level.

Some teachers could be retrained to teach other high-school courses. For instance, home economics teachers could be retrained to teach health, economics or business management. Vocational agriculture teachers could be retrained to teach business managemen t or other technical vocational education courses. The state should contribute toward financing the training for these teachers, just as it would for any other dislocated worker. A voucher could be issued for u se in a state-supported college or university for each teacher who needs additional training to teach in another course or at the college level, or displaced teachers who could access the Texas Job Training Fund recommended in another portion of this repor t.


Implications
These recommendations would improve the quality, efficiency and effectiveness of vocational education and technical courses available to Texas high school students. They would improve students chances of achieving and maintaining good jobs in an increasingly competitive market. They also would give students clear information about the relationship of certain courses to job opportunities.

The recommendations would target scarce state resources to courses related to viable job opportunities.


Fiscal Impact
The first recommendation to reduce funding weights on courses not requiring the extra weight would save the Foundation School Program $20 million annually. To achieve these savings, the Legislature must reduce the appropriations by the savings amount indicated in the fiscal impact section of this report.

The second recommendation, to link courses to job demand, would phase out unnecessary courses while adding some new ones. While it would improve effectiveness, cost savings cannot be estimated.

The recommendation to provide incentive rewards for courses resulting in jobs for students or for customized training for local business or industry could be paid from funds allocated to the Successful Schools Award program. Based on data from fiscal 1991, if each student who became successfully employed in a job related to their training had generated a $50 bonus, the cost would have been nearly $690,000 in that year. The Successful Schools Award program will distribute approximately $20 millio n in excellence awards in fiscal 1993.

The recommendation to implement a pilot program to move secondary vocational education courses to community colleges in some areas would generate both savings and costs. Implementing a pilot program will have both a cost to the state and to the local districts involved in the program and new transportation costs would be required. However, due to the cost differentials between the level of funding for vocational education courses in secondary schools and tuition ra tes at community colleges and TSTC campuses, there would also be some savings. The actual cost of the program, or more, could be offset by the savings. The actual amount of the costs and savings cannot be determined.

Some additional revenue could be neede d in 1994-95 to retrain teachers who may become displaced as a result of the recommendation to base extra state funding on proportional regional or statewide job demand. However, since local school districts may continue to offer courses which no longer qu alify for additional state funding, the number of potential teachers eligible for retraining assistance and, therefore, the cost of the retraining cannot be determined.

Savings to
Fiscal General Revenue Change in
Year Fund 001 FTEs

1994 $20,000,000 0
1995 20,000,000 0
1996 20,000,000 0
1997 20,000,000 0
1998 20,000,000 0



Endnotes
1 Texas Education Code, Sec. 16.155. Using the number of hours each student is enrolled in a vocational course, total contact hours are added together to equal a full-time equivalent student or FTE. Each FTE represents 30 hours of contact per week betwee n a student and vocational education program personnel. The annual basic entitlement of a school district per vocational student (FTE) is then adjusted by a weight (1.37) greater than the entitlement of the school district per regular student.
2 State Auditor s Office, Looking Ahead...Making the Most of our Education Dollars, report of Details from the Management Audit of Public Schools, SAO Report No. 3-010 (Austin, Texas, November 1992).