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Pilot program aims to increase the number of K-12 industrial tech teachers

Several years ago there were a variety of technical and vocational classes offered in Minnesota high schools. Over the years, many of those courses migrated to post-secondary institutes.

This created several unintended consequences, Rep. Gene Pelowski Jr. (DFL-Winona) told the House Greater Minnesota Jobs and Economic Development Finance Division Monday.

Among them, fewer students were able develop hands-on skills by the time they graduated, they were less familiar with a variety of career opportunities, and it has led to a shortage of licensed vocational teachers.

“I do think it is imperative that every high school senior have the option of graduating with a traditional high school degree and the option of an employable skill set,” he said. “That was common 30 years ago; it no longer is common and it should be.”

HF3232, sponsored by Pelowski, the division chair, would appropriate $400,000 in Fiscal Year 2020 for a career and technical educator pilot project geared toward creating a pipeline of new teachers.

Of the appropriation, $250,000 would go to Winona State University and $150,000 to Minnesota State College Southeast to work together to develop a teacher preparation program that results in both a degree and a license for teaching technical education courses. Funds could be used for course design, hiring of additional educators, recruiting students and program implementation.

“What this is really about is getting industrial art, industrial science and technical teachers back in the K-12 schools so that pipeline starts to rebuild,” said Scott Olson, president of Winona State University.

The bill was approved by the division and now heads to the House Higher Education Finance and Policy Division. The companion, SF3308, awaits action by the Senate Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee. Senate President Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) is the sponsor.

While the lack of technical teachers is a statewide issue, these two post-secondary institutions were chosen for the pilot program because they already have a strong partnership in other areas, said Larry Lundblad, interim president of Minnesota State College Southeast. 

“The dollars that would come to support this initiative, this pilot program, certainly would be an excellent investment, and you have a ready, willing, able group of folks that are ready to make it happen,” he said.

Division member feedback was largely positive, with Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont) saying students and employers mutually benefit from these technical programs.

Given that private sector positions often offer higher wages, Rep. Duane Sauke (DFL-Rochester) asked if retaining these teachers once they enter the profession would be a challenge.

Scott Hannon, retired superintendent of Winona Area Public Schools, agreed that it’s an issue and that to solve it would take a multi-step approach, including marketing the profession and recruiting people who are focused on becoming teachers.

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