Judy Savage: Testimony Before the Senate Education Committee

June 4th, 2019

Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act
Testimony Before the Senate Education Committee
Presented by Judy Savage, Executive Director
June 3, 2019

Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak today about the implementation of the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act.

Voter approval of this important initiative last November will enable New Jersey to make a much-needed investment in workforce development by expanding county vocational-technical schools to prepare more students for technically skilled careers.

I am sure that each of you hears frequently from employers in your district who are facing a serious skills gap. A workforce crisis is looming in New Jersey because manufacturers and other employers struggle find technically skilled people to fill current vacancies and a huge wave of anticipated retirements.

At the same time, there is growing concern among students and parents about the high cost of college and student loan debt. This is increasing the demand for educational opportunities that expose students to viable career pathways and prepare them for well-paying jobs that can be launched without a four-year degree.

New Jersey’s county vocational schools fill this critical need with a broad range of career and technical education programs in both traditional and emerging technical fields. But as more and more students seek this type of education, our schools have been turning away thousands of students each year, simply due to lack of capacity.

On a statewide average, county vocational schools get 2.3 applications for every available seat. Last year about 17,000 students were not accepted into a career and technical education program because their county vocational-technical school did not have space.

That is a disconnect that New Jersey employers and our state’s economy simply cannot afford to ignore any longer. Our county vocational-technical schools are very grateful to the Legislature and statewide voters for recognizing the urgent need and approving a significant investment in county vocational schools and community colleges to prepare more young people with skills, certifications and degrees needed to fill critical jobs in key NJ industries.

The career and technical education bond money will be used to expand and equip facilities for high-demand programs in fields like manufacturing, logistics and distribution, auto technology, aviation and drone technology, health care, welding, construction, and clean energy. It will expand opportunities for high school as well as adult students to launch well-paying careers pathways that will help to grow the state’s economy.

These are expensive programs to equip and operate, so making this investment at the county level is a cost-effective approach that will provide access to the largest number of students throughout the region.

From the outset, the bond act was an economic initiative to enable more young people to pursue high quality CTE programs aligned with employer demands in the state. While the funding is very significant, it was reduced from the targeted amount and cannot cover all of the substantial career and technical education needs throughout the state. We recognize the need for a competitive grant process that considers the requirements and priorities in the legislation, such as partnerships with employers, a focus on industry credentials, and collaboration with county colleges to maximize the return on the state’s investment.

The application process itself needs to be very detailed to ensure that all funded projects address the Legislature’s intent of expanding access to CTE programs throughout the state and meeting regional economic and workforce needs.

We began meeting with the Department of Education soon after the election to discuss implementation procedures, including developing a two-phase process that will first identify projects to be recommended for funding and then move into an appropriate design and plan review process to expedite the bond money allocation.

The Department has been very receptive to our general suggestions about structuring the application process to address the need for expeditious action while ensuring broad stakeholder involvement, and we look forward to continued collaboration as the regulation and application process is finalized.

We understand the Department’s charge is not a simple one, but completing the regulations as soon as possible must be a priority. The application is only the first step in a long process. The procedure for approving funded projects must be followed by a review of design and building plans, public bidding, and finally construction. It will likely take a year from application to the first shovels in the ground, and then the time to completion will depend on the scope of the project.

We must keep our eyes on the goal of getting more students into new and expanded career and technical education programs as quickly as possible, so that employers, and students, will benefit from an expanded workforce with the advanced technical skills needed to succeed in New Jersey’s technology-driven economy.

New Jersey’s county vocational-technical schools are enormously grateful to Senate President Sweeney and the Legislature for proposing the Securing Our Children’s Future Bond Act to open CTE opportunities to more students statewide – and to the voters who endorsed this as a priority worthy of bond funding. Our schools are anxiously awaiting guidance to finalize their plans, engage all of their partners, and seek the approval of their county officials so that they can make this goal a reality and expand opportunities for workforce development that will ensure New Jersey’s economy continues to thrive.

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