JUNEAU — The House Education Committee on Friday took up funding aspects of an education bill by Gov. Sean Parnell that would allow vocational credits to be counted as high school credits for participating students.
Under the bill, the 10 vocational schools involved must have such an agreement in place with high schools that send students into their program or face a 20 percent reduction in state funding.
State labor commissioner Dianne Blumer told the committee the state currently does not have a means for measuring success at state-recognized vocational schools or a way to enforce agreements with high schools on dual crediting.
Concerns were raised by committee members over the difficulties for other vocational training schools to be added to the list to receive a portion of state assistance.
“Private firms must come before the Legislature to get on the list,” Blumer said.
The current 10 vocational schools are on the allocation list by law. Any additional schools would have to be added through the Legislature, and changes would have to be made to the percentage of allocated funds form the Alaska Workforce Investment Board.
Blumer told the committee she was not certain how the list of current schools and their percentage of allocation evolved.
The challenges of adding private training schools to the list were raised by Rep. Lynn Gattis, R-Wasilla, but she was not the only one with concerns.
Rep. Peggy Wilson, R-Wrangell, pointed to Southern Southeast Alaska Technical Education Center in Ketchikan as another potential candidate.
“Businesses are going up to them trying to get their students even before they graduate because the demand is so high in their area,” Wilson said.
By law, vocational schools allotted funding from money collected for the Alaska Workforce Investment Board are the University of Alaska with 45 percent, Alaska Vocational Technical Center in Seward at 17 percent, and the Kotzebue Technical Center and Yuut Elitnaurviat Inc. Peoples’ Learning Center in Bethel at 9 percent.
The University of Alaska Southeast is at 5 percent, Galena Project Education Vocational Training Center gets 4 percent, and the Northwestern Alaska Career and Technical Center in Nome, Southwest Alaska Vocational and Education Center in King Salmon and Delta Career Advancement Center in Delta Junction all are at 3 percent. New Frontier Vocational Technical Center in Soldotna is at 2 percent.
The Southern Southeast Alaska Technical Education Center, operated through the Ketchikan Indian Community, does not receive funds.
Recently opened, the state has provided it with $1.1 million for its vocational center and $2.2 million for a new structure to operate from.
The Ketchikan Indian Community borrowed an estimated $3.5 million for the campus.
“You have their carpentry students transforming the old buildings they have acquired in Ketchikan into dorms,” said Wilson.
Demand for technical training in Alaska is high.
Blumer told the committee the demand for graduates in welding is high across Alaska.
“When I was touring AVTC (Alaska Vocational Technical Center) in Seward, they told me they did not have enough graduates to fill all the jobs people were contacting them about,” said Rep. Harriet Drummond, D-Anchorage.
Only one in five Alaska high school graduates eventually hold a four-year degree, according to the state labor department.