‘Career scholarship’ bill is short on details

Legislation that would give Indiana high school students a sort of voucher account to pay for career training is up for a second hearing and possible vote today by the House Education Committee. It’s an unusual measure, one that raises a lot of questions.

House Bill 1002 would create a “career scholarship account” program. High school sophomores, juniors and seniors could set up the state-funded accounts, which they could tap to pay for career courses, job training and apprenticeships. Payments could go to schools, businesses, labor organizations and “intermediaries,” which are organizations that connect students with employers.

The complex, 86-page bill is a top priority for House Republicans, who have pledged to “reinvent high school.” At an initial hearing Jan. 18, Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, the chair of the Education Committee, helped explain the bill and fend off questions from skeptical Democrats.

Left unanswered: What courses and training programs will qualify for funding? How much money will the state put in the students’ accounts? To what extent will it take away from the approximately $150 million in career and technical education grants that go to public schools? How many students will participate? And, importantly, how much will it cost the state? Most of those details would appear to be left to the Indiana Department of Education and the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet, which would approve courses and training vendors.

The state treasurer’s office would administer the program. That follows a model established with Indiana’s “education scholarship account” program (also called education savings accounts), a “neo-voucher” plan that pays for K-12 private school tuition and tutoring. It’s now limited to special education students but could expand.

HB 1002’s author is Rep. Chuck Goodrich, R-Noblesville. He’s president and CEO of Gaylor Electric, a large electrical contracting firm that might well qualify, under the legislation, to receive state funding to train its future workforce. He’s also immediate past president of Associated Builders and Contractors, a nonunion builders’ association whose PAC gave over $100,000 last year to GOP political candidates.

The legislation would require high schools to hold annual career fairs for students, and it would require high school juniors and seniors to meet at least once a year, for at least 30 minutes, with an employer, labor organization or intermediary that offers training.

The legislation seems to shift emphasis from traditional high school education to workforce-focused training at a time when Indiana’s college-going rate has fallen dramatically. According to a report last year from the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, the number of high school graduates who enrolled in postsecondary programs dropped from 65% to 53% in a five-year period.

Michael J. Hicks, an economist at Ball State University, has written critically about Indiana’s education and workforce training policies. I asked if he had any thoughts about HB 1002.

He said by email that there’s something to be said for offering more flexibility in the high school curriculum and more opportunities for hands-on learning, especially for boys, who attend college at much lower rates than girls. But he said Indiana has a surplus of workers who have only a high school education, and the economy isn’t creating jobs for them.

“Employment prospects for students who’ve not been to college remain very uncertain,” he said. “Diverting already scarce resources away from academic programs is risky, and unlikely to provide much better employment options for most students.”

The House Education Committee meets at 10 a.m. in the House Chambers. HB 1002 is first on the agenda.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s