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State aid sought to offer weekend vocational classes to high school students

The labor shortage, particularly for vocational and trades workers, is an ongoing issue across the state. To help meet those labor needs, some school districts are taking an innovative new approach with their class offerings and, in turn, seeking funding to support it.

Sponsored by Rep. Peggy Bennett (R-Albert Lea) HF3190, as amended, would provide extended time state aid to schools that offer vocational classes outside of the regular school day.

Extended time revenue is currently available to fund additional hours of instruction offered outside the regular school day. However, it only covers programs that are provided by state approved alternative programs, such as an area learning center, that is focused on student remediation.

The House Education Innovation Policy Committee approved the bill Thursday. It now moves to the House Education Finance Committee. The companion, SF3125, sponsored by Sen. Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls), awaits action by the Senate E-12 Policy Committee.  

Andrew Traetow, vocational principal at Fairmont Junior/Senior High School said the legislation would have a positive impact on both students and the workforce, since all areas of trades work are facing the challenge of recruiting skilled workers.

“Locally we have collaborated with electricians, plumbers and welders to analyze how we can serve each other to meet these demands,” he said.

Traetow’s district decided to start a weekend and summer welding academy for students who have full class schedules, but who also want to explore vocational career paths and receive credit. It’s estimated that the program costs approximately $7,500 to operate and is being paid for with general funds.

Bennett, who visited one of the weekend classes, said she is very impressed with not only the flexibility it allowed students, but how the classes are an efficient use of resources.

“There were a number of rural students who lived about 20 miles east of Fairmont. Those students were able to take a welding class that I don’t believe their district offered, so what a good way to share resources and collaborate amongst school districts,” she said.

There are 20 students enrolled in the weekend welding academy — five females and 15 males, who range in age from high school students to adults. Students can receive high school credit, potential college credits, as well as certification that is recognized by several Martin County businesses.

According to Robert Bonin, who teaches vocational classes at Fairmont Junior/Senior High School, approximately 15 percent of the students that he has in grades 9-12 go on to enter the workforce in those fields or enroll in a related post-secondary program.

“We currently have 16 of our students from the past seven years in our local welding workforce in Martin County,” he said.

One of Bonin’s students, Adam Carstensen, has taken nine welding classes and spent more than 700 hours in the shop. He said that having been able to take welding classes outside of regular school days has worked better with his schedule and has also been more productive.  

“I enjoyed these welding classes because they offer more time than a regular class, and in this time you can get bigger tasks done,” Carstensen said. “Thanks to this class I knew that I wanted to go into the trades and have them be a part of my life, so I chose to go to school for Welding Technology in Alexandria, Minn.”

Committee members are supportive of the bill. Rep. Jason Rarick (R-Pine City) said that, as an electrician, he was particularly appreciative of the program.

“This has been one of my things I want to work on, programs just like this, available to our high school students, exposing them to the opportunities in manufacturing and construction,” he said.
“We have such a need.”

Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) praised the program but questioned whether the extended time formula — with its focus on remediation — is relying on the right funding stream, and suggested it could receive funding as a pilot program.  

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