With just one week left in the 2016 session of Virginia’s General Assembly, legislators are wrapping up work on legislation and preparing to approve the new 2016-2018 biennial budget. The last two times the General Assembly considered a new biennial budget, in 2012 and 2014, impasses lasting weeks resulted in overtime sessions. Things are moving briskly this year, however.
The new budget will include over $12 million in funding for an initiative I began championing last year. The New Economy Workforce Credential Grant Fund would change the way Virginia treats credentialed and certified education programs, granting skills-based curriculum some of the same incentives that have been reserved for degree-based programs.
Having dedicated much of my tenure in the General Assembly to issues related to workforce development, I have encountered resistance to encouraging students to pursue skills-based educational programs. While those pursuing four-year degree programs often have options, those looking to be trained in high-demand – and easily employable – fields often do not.
Diminishing the value of a credentialed and certified education is shortsighted, both for the student and for our economy. The jobs offered to those who complete these programs not only pay well, they usually lead to a prosperous and secure future for the student and their families.
Training students in these fields has an additional benefit for the entire community. A highly trained workforce adds to a region’s attractiveness to employers. Having a skilled workforce makes a big difference in where firms decide to locate and in retaining existing firms.
The New Economy Workforce Credential Grants have accountability built into the program. Students and the educational institution offering these programs have to demonstrate a record of success. This provision makes the program distinctly different from ordinary educational grants.
House Bill 66, which creates the program, won final approval this week. It is now headed to Governor McAuliffe for his approval. His administration has worked cooperatively with me on the legislation, and – along with the approval of the funding in the budget for the program – I am excited that it will soon be up and running.
The New Economy Grants weren’t the only education initiative I sponsored this session. My bill to establish a Virginia career and technical education adjunct faculty provisional license, House Bill 279, also passed the House and Senate. This bill directs the Board of Education to provide for three year part-time licenses to qualified professionals in career and technical education to help teach – and train – our kids in high schools for a prosperous career path.
That’s all for this week. Next week will be my final column for 2016, and I’ll give you a wrap-up of what happened in the budget and other legislative initiatives. Thanks for reading and have a great week.