A bi-partisan group of legislators and representatives of major business, employer and labor organizations are working together to call voter attention to the Securing Our Children’s Future bond referendum, which will provide a critical investment in school safety and workforce development.
Public Question #1 on the November 6 general election ballot seeks voter approval of $500 million in state bonds for K-12 school security and water infrastructure improvements, and the expansion of county vocational-technical schools and county colleges to meet industry needs for technically-skilled employees and the growing demand for career options that can be launched without a four-year college degree.
Sponsored by legislators from both parties, the bill authorizing the public question received near-unanimous approval in the Assembly and the Senate, and was signed by Governor Murphy. If approved by voters, the bond referendum will provide:
• $350 million for county vocational school expansion and K-12 school security projects
• $100 million for school water system upgrades to remove lead and other contaminants
• $50 million for community college workforce facilities
“Voter approval of this referendum will be a game-changer for workforce development in our state and give thousands of young people realistic pathways to family-sustaining careers,” said Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools, who hosted a joint news conference on the public question at the State House in Trenton.
“This effort was launched in August 2017, when Senate President Steve Sweeney announced the creation of a Legislative caucus to address the needs of NJ’s manufacturing industry, and his proposal for a bond referendum to build the shops and labs needed to prepare more skilled workers for well-paying careers in key New Jersey industries,” Savage said.
Senate President Sweeney and other prime sponsors of the bill – Senator Steve Oroho (R-Sussex) and Senator Anthony Bucco (R-Morris) – spoke about the critical educational and economic needs the ballot question would address. They were joined at the news conference by Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin (D-Middlesex) and Senator Vin Gopal (D-Monmouth), the chairman of the Manufacturing Caucus.
The employer and labor organizations supporting the measure include the New Jersey Business & Industry Association (NJBIA), the NJ State Building and Construction Trades Council, the NJ State Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, the NJ Builders Association, the NJ State Utilities Association, the NJ Alliance for Action and the New Jersey Association of Counties.
The career and technical education funding will be used to expand and equip facilities for high-demand programs that address New Jersey’s skills gap in key industries. It will support new learning opportunities in fields like manufacturing, logistics and distribution, auto technology, aviation and drone technology, medical technology, welding, construction, and clean energy.
“Enrollment in county vocational-technical schools – the launching pad for so many successful college and career opportunities – has increased by 34 percent since 2000, but now they are at capacity,” said NJCCVTS President Scott Moffitt. “In 2017, almost 17,000 student applicants eager for a career and technical high school education could not be accommodated because our schools simply did not have the space for them.
“It is time to expand county vocational-technical schools to meet the next generation of student and employer needs,” he said.
Priority will be given to projects with strong industry and county college partnerships that prepare people for careers, not just jobs, and help them earn industry credentials and credits towards associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.
“Making these investments at the county level is a cost-efficient way to meet regional workforce needs and give interested high school students and young adults from all communities access to new and expanded opportunities,” Savage said.
“Expanding partnerships between our county educational institutions and employers will strengthen New Jersey’s future workforce,” said New Jersey Council of County Colleges president Dr. Aaron Fichtner. “As a state we are uniquely positioned for economic growth, but only if we invest properly in our future workforce to prepare the next generation with the skills needed for career success.”
NJBIA has supported the proposal for the bond referendum from its inception.
“It will help fill a critical skills gap that is leaving good-paying jobs unfilled and will better satisfy the growing demand for career and technical education,” said NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka. “Voter approval will help improve outmigration of young adults, strengthen our workforce pipeline and help our companies expand in-state. New Jersey will get a strong return on its investment from Public Question No. 1.”