The case for funding CTE programs

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government allocated $280 billion for K–12 and postsecondary schools. The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER I, II, III) portions of each of the three emergency response bills totaled $189 billion for various uses, including education technology, building costs, staff salaries and professional development. All ESSER funds are to be used for the purposes outlined in each bill but can also be used for anything allowable under the following Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act, and Perkins. Further, while states and districts were given wide discretion on how to invest the money, there are time limits within which the money must be spent.

Many districts are using ESSER funds to prioritize and expand their CTE programs.

Career and technical education (CTE) leaders should take a seat at the table to help decide where the money goes. ESSER dollars are intended to make up for lost instructional time and accelerate learning. CTE plays an integral role in this work.

Instant upskilling

Joel Casiday is a culinary arts instructor at Coldspring-Oakhurst High School in Texas, and he has seen firsthand the positive outcomes of CTE on students. “I always talk to my students about life experience and its return on investment,” said Casiday. “School is an investment of your time, so how is it paying off for you right now?”

Some of that return on time investment is harder to measure, such as rising confidence in new skills. But other parts can be realized immediately. “CTE skills often translate immediately and are used by students to better their lives right away.”

The learning that happens in CTE courses has instant applications to improve students’ lives. While upskilling and gaining knowledge in high-demand career fields is valuable, career exploration opportunities help them understand how the knowledge and skills they’ve obtained in class apply in the real world.

Career exploration

Career exploration is a valuable experience for today’s students, giving them a unique look at how education supports the future. Many students leave high school without a good idea of how to translate what they learned into career opportunities. In fact, one-third of college students earning a bachelor’s degree change their major at least one time. More hands-on career exploration opportunities during middle and high school CTE programs can help change that.

Mike Meissner, power technology instructor at Huron Area Technical Center in Bad Axe, Michigan, implements career exploration as the guiding principle for his students. “What I’ve learned in my short time teaching is that students need to understand the ‘why’ behind what they are doing in class to get the most value from learning and to better plan for their futures,” he said.

Meissner has designed his courses to meet students’ interests and the industry’s needs. Students explore careers that interest them. By developing curriculum that centers around career exploration, Meissner and other educators like him are setting students on a path for lifelong success.

Long-lasting, positive effects of CTE programs

The federal stimulus funds have created an opportunity to invest significantly in high-quality CTE programs throughout the country. Blending funding sources can allow districts to upgrade technology and invest in new tools, equipment and professional development. The demand for skilled workers is greater than the supply. And some CTE programs even make it possible for students to graduate and gain immediate employment. In some communities, CTE leaders are working with local employers to meet staffing needs.

The one-time infusion of ESSER stimulus funds makes now the ideal time to ensure that high-quality CTE programs have a central place in K–12 education. Learn more about optimizing ESSER funding to grow or expand your CTE programs, with free resources and information from iCEV.

Read more in Techniques: The infrastructure issue.