CHEYENNE — The state's new plan to administer federal dollars for career and technical education is still a month or so from being released for public comment.
But the business and education community that's worked to develop the plan already are touting how reforms will help create a better workforce for the future.
The state is in the final stages of drafting an implementation plan for the federal Carl Perkins Act, which was reformed for the fifth time in 2018 to give states power over how it used grant funding to promote CTE education.
Michelle Aldrich, state director of CTE education, said business leaders have worked with the education community to create a Wyoming-centric plan. It will increase opportunities for students to explore potential careers earlier and have direct connection to job hungry industries across the state.
The new version of the Perkins Act, referred to as Perkins V, also will allow Wyoming to address specific needs down to the county and city levels, Aldrich said.
"The exciting thing about Perkins V is this is the first time we can develop a program unique to Wyoming, not just a boilerplate federal plan," Aldrich said. "We've been able to generate a lot of great ideas on how we can make career and technical education the best for Wyoming, which is what we're all hoping for. We want to be able to help move our economy forward and try to diversify our economy."
The new plan is set to be released to the public for the comment process in September, with the goal of implementation in the 2020-21 school year.
The plan will hit a state where CTE has been a major focus for state elected officials both in and out of the Legislature. This year the Legislature passed and Gov. Mark Gordon signed Senate File 43, which expanded access to the Hathaway Scholarship for students pursuing a CTE education.
Aldrich said that change, along with other efforts across the state to promote CTE, is creating a perfect environment for the state to roll out its own plan for the $5 million in grant funding the state gets from the federal government.
Stephanie Meisner-Maggard, vice president of the Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, sits on the statewide Perkins Advisory Board. She said the changes the group has worked on to the Perkins is a great start to bridging the gap between the business and education communities.
Rob Hill, president of the Wyoming Association for Career and Technical Education, said that relationship building between business and the education sector is a needed piece for the state. Not only will it help provide the state's economy the workforce it needs to sustain itself in the future, it is also a way to ensure Wyoming's next generation is incentivized to stay in the state as they start their careers.
"One of the outcomes we want to see is our communities retaining our young people and continuing our traditions in Wyoming and being a part of Wyoming," Hill said. "It's important we give them the skills they need to be successful in Wyoming so they can help build a better Wyoming."
One area where Meisner-Maggard said she's excited to see improvement in across the state is in the availability of pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs for students. In previous versions of Perkins, that area wasn't receiving as much attention.
Meisner-Maggard said it is a great avenue for students to be set up to succeed in good paying jobs that also allow them a chance to advance both in training and in pay.
"We're really not getting enough students right now in the pipeline to match our demand," Meisner-Maggard said. "We have a really strong school system here but to not have the workforce to meet our businesses' needs, there's something broken there. So that's what we've been working on to assess this gaps and figure out solutions in this plan."
Aldrich taught CTE at Cheyenne's Triumph High School before taking the CTE position with the state this year. She said one of the biggest changes coming for CTE education through the new plan is extending it down to the fifth- and sixth-grade levels. Previously, Perkins funding could only go down to the middle school grades.
By allowing fifth- and sixth-graders a chance to explore career clusters, there's a better chance by the time they hit high school they will have had an opportunity to be able to focus their secondary education in building a solid base for a future career.
"A lot of students think about those career choices when they're in fifth and sixth grade," Aldrich said. "They're not going to have to be waiting until eight, ninth, or 10th grade to decide what really interests them or where their passions are."
Another major change that the Perkins V plan will have is moving away from written assessments for CTE learned in high school. Currently teachers can either give a written test for CTE students or have them take a national certification test for a skill like welding or mechanical repair.
The new plan will make a national certification program the only way to assess a students' skills, Aldrich said. That's a far better option for students entering the workforce. A 90% on a written test doesn't mean that much to an employer, but a national certification is something that makes a student a viable employee right out the gate.
"Employers want to know they have the skills to do a job, not just book knowledge. We're really excited about that change," Aldrich said. "And the schools will be paying for that certification as well, which is a great benefit for the student."