Western Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC) Superintendent Gregory Donovan and Pima County Joint Technical Education District (JTED) Assistant Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer Tina Norton discuss state budget cuts to JTEDs, school districts that offer career and technical education programs to students at partner school districts.
JOSE CARDENAS: Good evening, I'm José Cárdenas. We'll talk about state budget cuts to career and technical education and the impact on students across Arizona. And learn about an organization helping children in valley schools become proficient readers before they finish the 3rd grade. And in Sounds of CultÃºra, an exhibition featuring artists investigating stories marginalized by the media. All this coming up next in "Horizonte."
VIDEO: Funding for "Horizonte" is made possible by contributions by the Friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station.
JOSE CARDENAS: Thanks for joining us. Governor Ducey and the state legislature have endorsed and protected huge tax cuts for businesses but at the same time, beginning July 1st, budget cuts will impact the joint educational district program, known as JTED. JTEDs are school districts that offer career and technical education programs to students that partner school districts, a source of skilled candidates that businesses need. Joining me to talk about these issues, Gregory Donovan, superintendent for the western Maricopa education center known as West-Mec and Tina Norton, chief financial advisor for the Pima county JTED district. She's also a board member for the association for career technical education. Thank you both for joining us on "Horizonte." GREGORY, you know, as important as I've come to understand these JTEDs are, I'm not sure many people know about them. Tell us what they are and what they do.
GREGORY DONOVAN: Thank you. In the state of Arizona, in 1991, the Arizona legislature in cooperation with support from business and industry, passed state statutes allowing communities to vote to come together to support through an additional tax more career and technical education. So starting in 1992, in the east valley, the east valley institute of technology, the east valley of Maricopa county, the first joint technical system in Arizona was created. Since then, and over the last 20 years almost, 2014, there is now a JTED in every county in the state of Arizona. Joint technical education District.
JOSE CARDENAS: And I think, you know, at least people of my vintage would think of technical education as shop but it's much more than that.
GREGORY DONOVAN: So much more and those who may have gone to school in other states, historically, they were called county vo-techs, regional training centers, area vocational schools where students would leave their local high school to go to another's campus for vocational training. Today as you said, it is so much more than that, that's why we've moved away from the term vocational to career and technical education. We are about preparing young people for the workforce, industry credentialing, licensure.
JOSE CARDENAS: You even have pre-law courses.
GREGORY DONOVAN: Yes, we do, any licensable education. All of your medical professions, all of your traditional trades, cybersecurity, all those types of things fall underneath it, law and public safety, pre-law, all of those programs.
JOSE CARDENAS: So how many kids do the JTEDs impact?
GREGORY DONOVAN: In the state of Arizona we are currently impacting about 90,000 students in career and technical education. That represents a membership of about 105 school communities and the reason I call it that is that community had to vote to join and pay that tax to assure that their young people would have access to career and technical programs.
JOSE CARDENAS: Tina, let's talk a little bit more about how the JTEDs are funding. There's been several references that GREGORY has made to taxes but exactly how does it work?
TINA NORTON: A JTED is funded on how many students are participating. But whereas a school district is fund is based on a child equals one, in a JTED setting, the child is fractional enrollment because we're not educating in the areas of academic math, science, those kinds of things. We're focusing on CTEs. The majority of our students get .5 funding of that one and that builds the JTED budget and then the state, we get the tax rate that comes from the local taxpayer and then the state aid from the state budget covers that.
JOSE CARDENAS: Now, some of the statements I've read indicate that at least the supporters of JTEDs feel the most recent budget cuts may be the death knell for JTEDs. Why is that?
TINA NORTON: Well, when you think about it in 2011, JTEDs, the state was funding about $92 million towards JTEDs in our state. We've added districts to those JTEDs since 2011 and we've added JTEDs since then but currently we're receiving $69 million in state aid. JTEDs as a whole in the state of Arizona and the budget cut that takes effect in 16-17, it will be closer to $40 million.
JOSE CARDENAS: So even before the most recent budget cuts or the ones that are proposed and will go into effect soon, funding had been cut substantially?
TINA NORTON: Yes, significantly, one of the biggest reasons was in 2011 when we had the severe downturn in the economy, we received a cut to the ninth grade population so ninth graders are no longer funded within our programs where they were previous to that downturn.
JOSE CARDENAS: So GREGORY, is this an exaggeration to say that this may be the end of the JTEDs if these budget cuts go through, the most recent ones, it's like 2%?
GREGORY DONOVAN: I would hesitate to say the end of JTEDs but it does certainly, a continued downward spiral. Our population today in West-Mec is 6,000 students less than it was five years ago.
JOSE CARDENAS: Because you don't have the money to deal with the students?
GREGORY DONOVAN: We don't have the money to deal with the students. We don't have the money to help support the programs in the local high schools. The entire intent of the original legislation was to put the additional funds into the program that it cost to run them. I know this is the traditional one, but everyone can agree that auto mechanics, an industry-current auto mechanics program, costs much more than a literature class to run.
JOSE CARDENAS: And so you need the money or you just can't do that.
GREGORY DONOVAN: That's correct. You need the money.
JOSE CARDENAS: So what can be done about it? There's been some discussion that this was an unintended consequence of the budget negotiations, kind of similar to the discussions that are being held about charter schools that may be legislators didn't intend to have this kind of impact. What's going on there?
TINA NORTON: Well, because our graduation rate is 98% as opposed to 72% graduation rate statewide, people, legislators, the governor, they see the value of our programs. They see the impact. So the intent is not to have fewer kids in the program, we would believe. So the cuts don't take effect until 16-17. We're hopeful the governor calls a special session and if so includes this issue to fix it or that early in the upcoming legislative session in January, that they introduce a bill with an emergency clause to remove the cuts that were put into statute that will go into implementation in 16-17.
JOSE CARDENAS: And GREGORY, we launched Friday into the discussion of the budget cuts and the impact but Tina touched on a very important point. The benefits of these programs are not simply the learning that these kids get but it helps on the graduation rates and it has other long-lasting impacts for the kids in the state.
GREGORY DONOVAN: We have many students who come to us who have never been able to attach themselves to the traditional system. The relevance, relationship and rigor. We all asked it at some point in school. Why am I learning this? But when you're in a program that you're interested in and you see that practical application, parent after parent, grandparent after grandparent tells me they had a child that struggled and by the time they're halfway through our program, they're on the honor roll academically as well as succeeding with us. They see a reason for being in school. They see the relationship of government, mathematics, science, practical application of all the things they're hearing in the other classes.
JOSE CARDENAS: Where's the business community on this? I saw a piece by Doug Pruitt, the chairman of the board of construction, decrying these budget cuts and what's happening but is that a lone voice or do you have strong support from the business community?
GREGORY DONOVAN: We have very strong support from the business community statewide. There is a little confusion because a lot of our business people believe that business taxes need to be reformulated and they want those taxes reduced but where does education money come from? Taxes. And so we have some of that but with the grain of the American workforce, there is a lot of concern among the large business community where is the next generation of technically trained workers coming from? It's not there.
JOSE CARDENAS: Tina, we talked about a 2% budget cut. Is there a cut that can be absorbed? Some of what I read on the other side's point is everybody took a hit and JTEDs have to step up and take a hit just like everybody else did but what would be acceptable if anything?
TINA NORTON: Well, certainly we did sustain those significant cuts in '11 but we understand that everybody felt pain in this budget and everybody received a cut. The cut to the JTED was significantly impactful because there were two places there was a cut. There was a cut to the district side of the equation, I mentioned that each student counts for one on the district side of the funding. That's where the largest cut was seen. It was cut 7.5% but it was 7.5% of 1. And then on the JTED county we get the .25 funding and we've received a seven and a half there. $23 million is on the district side, seven on the JTED side. We haven't talked about what we could survive and what would be sustainable but certainly restoring that district side of the cut, which is the most significant part is the one of most urgency.
JOSE CARDENAS: We'll be watching this closely, thank you both so much for joining us on "Horizonte" to talk about it.
TINA NORTON: Thank you.
Gregory Donovan : Western Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC) Superintendent, Tina Norton: Pima County Joint Technical Education District (JTED) Assistant Superintendent and Chief Financial Officer