Local education leaders discuss regional and state push for vocational education

Brandon Paykamian • Updated Feb 13, 2019 at 11:51 PM

As demand for workers in technical fields increases and higher education costs for prospective students continue to rise, many Tennesseans are beginning to think that the university path simply isn’t for everyone.

Last week, Johnson City commissioners backed a resolution urging the Tennessee General Assembly to allow students to use the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate Examination instead of using their retake option for the ACT or SAT. This comes after the Tennessee General Assembly filed Tennessee House Bill 294 and two days before Senate Bill 917 was filed for introduction, each of which aims to allow students to do so.

“The legislation has the potential to benefit students, especially dual enrollment students, who are seeking immediate entry into the workplace after obtaining a degree or certificate in vocational and technical fields,” Northeast State Community College spokesman Bob Carpenter said.

Local public school officials weighed in on the impact of the legislation and city resolution Monday.

“We think offering the students the opportunity to use the ACT National Career Readiness Certificate Examination in lieu of the ACT re-take during their senior year opens doors and expands opportunities for many of our students,” Science Hill High School Principal Todd Barnett said. “A growing number of employers look to this credentialing tool to make hiring decisions, so allowing our students to demonstrate their credentials and employability using this assessment will potentially provide those students a competitive advantage in the workplace.”

Unicoi County Schools Director John English agreed with Barnett’s assessment.

“We want to support our students in their post-secondary goals and that does not always mean the university track. Many employers recognize the NCRC credential, and we would like to help them achieve that any way we can,” he said in an emailed statement to the Johnson City Press.

Washington County Schools Director Bill Flanary said he is “100 percent” supportive of promoting and subsidizing career readiness initiatives in Tennessee, but he doesn’t think students should feel the need to choose between one or the other when it comes to a university or career and technical path.

“I am 100 percent in favor of the retake opportunity for seniors. A high ACT score can change a student's life. That extra shot at a good score, especially when that student is a senior and all of a sudden college is on their radar, could be a game changer,” Flanary said.

The discussion is part of a broader, statewide push to encourage vocational training in Tennessee. Last week, Gov. Bill Lee announced his first legislative initiative, the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Training, or GIVE, which aims to expand access to vocational and technical training by providing funding for high school juniors and seniors to use four dual-enrollment credits for trade and tech programs. Two grant programs will fund the initiative: GIVE Community Grants and GIVE Student Grants.

“I believe that expanding our vocational and technical offerings will be transformational for Tennesseans and the future of our state,” Lee said in a press release. “We have the opportunity to help students discover quality career paths and gain skills that are needed right now in the workforce by emphasizing career and technical education.”

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