Vocational-Technical School Expansion: Concerns The Garden State Coalition has long supported the important work being done by New Jersey’s vocational-technical schools, and our member districts have maintained excellent relationships with the vo-tech schools in their counties. Now, more than ever, our students—especially those who may not attend four-year colleges--need access to technical training that will qualify them for good jobs in the state’s industries. We understand the need for facilities expansion at the vo-techs and have met with Judy Savage and Jackie Burke of the Association of County Vocational-Technical Schools to discuss that need. We support both S1827 and S2293, but have concerns about the expansion(s) proposed in them. Since the two bills have a common theme, we know there is a possibility that they may be merged in the hearing and amendment process. The following are our concerns and recommendations: • S1827: While we understand and support the need for vocational-technical school expansion, we believe that any school construction aid initiative should also include funds for construction in regular operating districts (ROD). The combination of aging facilities and eight years of diminished school funding have left ROD’s all over the state with critical facilities needs. The availability of grants for ROD districts would help ease the property tax burden on those districts and provide better facilities for the state’s students. • S2293: The bill is very specific in the outline of criteria for successful grant applications (stackable credentials, vo-tech/county college partnerships, training partnerships with potential employers). However, many traditional high school districts offer excellent CTE programs and should have the same opportunities to apply for these grants (with the same criteria). If the initiative is to achieve its ultimate aim—a better trained NJ workforce—no institution that can demonstrate alignment with the legislation’s criteria should be excluded from grant participation. Our members are also very concerned that county vocational-technical schools in some counties have created highly competitive, admission only “academies” that effectively function as prep schools for students seeking admission to the most competitive four-year colleges. In most cases, the demographics of these academies do not match the demographics of the sending districts in their counties and the academies are often in direct competition with similar excellent programs at traditional high schools. This parallel system is expensive, creates inequalities and drains resources from students at traditional public high schools. We do not advocate turning back the clock on the academies, though we would like to see them increase demographic diversity. But if funds are made available for expansion seats at the vo-techs, we recommend that expansion be made to programs like those described in S2293, rather than to the admission-only academies. We look forward to discussing these concerns with you.