Fighting for a Better Life: JTED Certificates and Native Youth

Anne Minard

UPDATED February 4, 2016: An earlier version incorrectly stated how many Joint Technical Education Districts are in Arizona. The number has been changed.

Arizona education advocates are fighting the state’s Republicans to sustain job training for high school students – training that is especially vital on the state’s reservations.

Arizona has 14 Joint Technical Education Districts (JTEDs), similar to Career and Technical Education programs (CTEs) in other states. Additionally, the federal Native American Career and Technical Education Program awards limited grants to job training programs in Indian country, although schools in Indian country also benefit from the state programs. All such programs offer a variety of career training courses, including welding, auto repair, cosmetology and nursing.

Arizona’s JTEDs have been imperiled by a 2015-2016 budget cut of $30 million, contained in SB 1476, a K-12 education bill. Although several Republicans voted against the bill along with Democrats, all of the lawmakers who supported it were Republicans. The Arizona Democratic Party Native American Caucus is decrying the immediate result: a curtailment of job training at most schools from four years to two, so that only high school juniors and seniors are eligible.

“Full funding of JTEDs is important because success depends on education. This education should be available beginning at the ninth-grade level for all students,” Rep. Jennifer Benally, D-Tuba City (District 7), said in a statement following a Caucus meeting last week.

A measure of hope arrived on Friday, with the release of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s proposed 2017 budget. Noting that JTED students have a 97 percent graduation rate, the governor is recommending a three-year, competitive grant program that would award up to $10 million in grants per year to JTEDs that partner with local business to prepare students for the workforce. That would recoup a third of the program’s lost funds over the three years.

“Quality CTE programs result in successful high school completion as well as a head start into the workforce,” the governor’s proposal notes. “Additionally, these programs serve a significant role in economic development by providing Arizona businesses with valuable employees.”

Benally added that the training programs are especially important on reservations.

“You look at these kids, and you look at their situations. Some kids are just not geared to go to the universities. But if they have that certificate, they can get a job and take care of themselves. If they have a family, they have a way to provide for them,” she said.

Benally added that she was saddened by the loss of funding to the JTEDs.

“I was truly sad that it was so easy just to take that funding,” she said. “No matter how we argued, no matter what we did, it didn’t work.”

A recent study by the Morrison Institute, “On the Rise,” details the benefits of JTEDs for student performance. For example, students in the Mesa Public Schools, near Phoenix, are 79 percent less likely to drop out of high school when they take two career and technical education courses.

And benefits from the program flow to the state, as well. The Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy group, estimates that if half of Arizona’s 24,700 high school dropouts in 2010 had instead graduated from high school, Arizona would have seen $91 million in increased earnings and $7 million in increased state tax revenue. If the 2010 graduates had gone on to various sorts of postsecondary education – including CTE certification – the statewide economic impact would have risen to $156 million in increased earnings.

Benally has seen preliminary indications, in newer bills being proposed by her Republican colleagues, that some may be realizing the importance of CTE programs.

“Maybe they’re more informed. Maybe they’re hearing from their constituents,” she said, adding that the most important beneficiaries of the program, in her way of thinking, are the state’s students.

“If they have that certificate, at least they have a chance at a better life,” she said. “We want our children to take the teaching, and use that so they can have a better life. That’s what we pray for. Any young adult, any individual, Native or not, they’re entitled to have a good life.”

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