Indiana lawmakers are adamant to “reinvent” Hoosier high school curriculum as the state tries to reverse its dismal college-going and credentialing rates, stymie other academic impacts following the COVID-19 pandemic and help fill open jobs around the state.
But a Republican-backed plan to graduate Hoosier students who are better prepared for the workforce — and increase the likelihood they will stay in Indiana — has been met with continued skepticism and pushback from local school officials and education advocates.
House Bill 1002, a priority bill for the House GOP caucus and the leading high school reform measure moving through the legislature, seeks to expand work-based learning in Indiana high schools, like apprenticeships and internships.
Bill author Rep. Chuck Goodrich, R-Noblesville, said he wants to narrow the “skills gap” between Hoosiers and employers.
“You’ll see throughout the bill the idea of bringing our schools, our students and our businesses together. That’s the heart around the bill,” Goodrich said before the Senate education committee last week. “Hoosiers need a credential beyond a high school diploma — like a certification or degree — to succeed and thrive in the economy and the workforce. Giving students hands-on, applied learning opportunities and the ability to earn a credential before graduation is a game changer, not only for the student, not only for the family, but for Indiana.”
While state and local education leaders are pushing for greater K-12 reforms to better prepare graduates for postsecondary education and the workforce, they maintain that Indiana already has robust Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.
They argue that lawmakers should instead focus on boosting resources to those programs, rather than creating a new system that lacks clear enough guidelines or accountability measures.
Critics are also concerned about loose parameters in the bill that would allow students to use money from the 21st Century Scholars and Frank O’Bannon Grant programs on job training, instead of traditional college coursework.
“The current CTE programs are already providing hands-on, real-world experiences to students, and that allow these students to already earn workforce credentials and certifications within existing programs,” said Joel Hand, representing the Indiana Coalition for Public Education and the American Federation of Teachers of Indiana.
“I understand the desire of legislators to come up with the shiny new thing that’s going to solve the same problem we had before,” he continued. “And I think that’s what HB 1002 is — it’s just a shiny new thing that’s looking to address something we’re already working on addressing.”
The bill passed the House 70-25 in February and is now under consideration in the Senate education committee. Possible amendments and a vote to send the bill to the full chamber could come this week.
More certificates and credentials for high schoolers
Paramount to the wide-ranging bill is a provision that would establish accounts for students in grades 10-12 to pay for career training outside their schools.
The new framework is intended to enable students to earn a post-secondary credential before leaving the K-12 system.
The career scholarship accounts (CSAs) would be similar to Indiana’s ESAs. Students would first be required to create a postsecondary plan in order to qualify for the scholarship accounts.
The amount each participating student can receive to pay for apprenticeships, coursework, or certification would be based on a calculation of the state dollars that their school receives. Students won’t qualify for a CSA if they’re already enrolled in a career and technical education program, though.
The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) and the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet would be tasked with approving the courses and tracks available to students, as well as determining the grant amount for each course.
Goodrich has so far proposed giving $2,500 to $5,000 for each student who chooses to participate in workforce training.
GOP lawmakers said their goal is to get 5,000-10,000 students to participate in the next fiscal year.
Goodrich and other Republican lawmakers said many established career and technical education centers across the state are already equipped to provide training under the scholarship program. But they also want to increase involvement of private businesses around Indiana and create more opportunities for students to get training directly from employers and labor organizations in high-demand fields.
“We need more applied learning opportunities for students — and that’s what this bill does,” Goodrich said. “It ensures that schools are both properly incentivized and are given the flexibility necessary to provide for these opportunities. This is long overdue.”
Other provisions in the bill would require IDOE to put in place new diploma requirements by 2024, and ensure that high schools hold career fairs to help students connect with employers and work-based learning providers.
The bill would also allow students to apply funds from the 21st Century Scholars program — a statewide grant program that supports student enrollment at two- and four-year schools.
Although in favor of graduation pathway expansions, representatives from multiple Indiana higher education institutions said they’re concerned that could discourage some Hoosier students from going onto college after high school.
Susan Brock Williams with Indiana State University “strongly urged” lawmakers to continue supporting workforce training programs through the Workforce Ready Grant funding pot, not by dipping into the 21st Century program or the Frank O’Bannon grants currently intended for postsecondary education at colleges and universities.
“This would be a huge policy shift,” she said. “If unchanged, House Bill 1002 would have the effect over time of severely impacting students who qualify for need-based college financial aid at a time when we need more college graduates, not less.”
There were 17,000 registered apprentices in Indiana last year, according to the state’s workforce development department. Brock Williams noted that if half that number of apprentices sought funding from college financial aid programs for their training, state spending would be upwards of $42.5 million in the first fiscal year alone.
“The impact is huge and will only grow over time as employers, unions, and intermediaries start using the fund to pay for their training,” she continued. What will happen to disadvantaged college students in this scenario?”
A good use of state dollars?
The CSAs have so far been met with support from business and economic leaders across the state.
Still, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce said the bill needs some work — including more specificity around the intermediaries that would be qualified to provide career coaching and counseling.
Chamber leader Kevin Brinegar also questioned whether the program should be rushed to take effect in the next school year, or if a phased-in period or some pilots might be more appropriate, first.
“If we’re going to make these changes, which overall we think are positive, to get more kids having credentials even before they leave high school or credits towards a degree or credential, and get them engaged and exposed to the world of work in the 21st Century so that we have more folks prepared to enter the workforce and be be productive — we want that effort to be successful,” Brinegar said. “We’re not sure about just saying ‘OK, boom, as of this day, this is going to be statewide.’”
Many education officials said they’re on-board with the underlying idea, too, but held that Goodrich’s bill is “moving too fast” and “lacks important oversight.”
The Indiana State Teachers Association (ITSA), which opposes the current draft of the bill, said its members specifically want lawmakers to ensure that public schools “play a major role” in work-based learning expansion.
“This CSA program takes these work-based learning programs in a different direction and raises too many unanswered questions, at this point, regarding the education of these students,” said John O’Neal, representing ISTA. “There is room for more modern youth apprenticeship programs … and there is time to discuss a more robust workplace framework that can be cooperative between the community schools and these (business) entities, rather than creating competition. We should do more with CTE programs that have been in schools for years, not working against them.”
To qualify for the accounts, students would need to meet for at least 30 minutes with an intermediary — an employer or a labor organization they seek to work with to discuss current and future career opportunities.
Concerns were also raised about whether the bill would make it difficult for students to change vocations or attend a university in the future if they change their minds about a particular career path.
“What happens if a student is not being successful in this program? How do they receive assistance? Who does the student or their parents go to with a concern?” asked David Marcotte, executive director of the Indiana Urban Schools Association. “Can a student choose, or can an employer choose, to be removed from this program and go back to the high school? If so, schools will be challenged to place this student in courses mid-semester.”
Hand, with the public education coalition, echoed others, saying existing CTE programs should be the vehicle for increased student training, “rather than creating a new funding stream for another program.
“It’s all coming, eventually, out of the same state general fund, so it’s going to mean less funding for these CTE programs,” he said.
“What I think we need to do is put more resources and more efforts into expanding and recreating (existing CTE programs), rather than the shiny new object that is House Bill 1002.”
The Indiana Capital Chronicle is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that covers state government, policy and elections.