A new Career Technical Education building is a big step toward the growth of vocational programs for Rio Rancho Public Schools, yet in spite of the district’s dedication and $12.7 million expenditure for the building and land on Zenith Court, the state hasn’t been much help.

Once standard in high schools, CTE is becoming the wave of the future.

Now – and even more so once the CTE building opens in fall 2023 – new high school graduates can earn good livings in trades such as carpentry, architecture and construction, as well as numerous health-sciences options.

RRPS plans to create partnerships with area builders, medical providers and other key employers to fill job vacancies with students who have gone in those directions through high school and college – exemplified in recent years with RRPS’s dual-credit partnership with Central New Mexico Community College.

RRPS is seeking a way to afford not only all the equipment necessary, but also qualified teachers.

Craig Brandt

The way State Sen. Craig Brandt, R-Rio Rancho, a former school board member, sees it, those instructors will need pay commensurate with what they could make outside the district.

When the board decided to purchase a building exclusively for CTE, RRPS Superintendent Sue Cleveland said it was “disturbing” that labor shortages were worsening.

Along with that, she said, skilled tradespeople are aging, with their current median age of 43 roughly 10 percent older than the general population. Plus, 27 percent of them are within 10 years of the Social Security retirement age of 62.

There are 17 CTE “clusters” in Rio Rancho’s high schools, serving an estimated 2,400 students, and four middle school programs, with more than 900 students.

The state isn’t offering help to districts adding CTE to their curriculum.

In mid-November, the school board approved a list of its 11 priorities for the 2022 state legislative session. Among them was “Support initiatives that provide funding, ideally a dedicated revenue stream, and support for career-technical education.”

Sue Cleveland

Amid the unprecedented fiscal outlook for the state, the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration earlier this month released the FY23 Executive Budget Recommendation from the administration of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. It showed $8.4 billion in recurring spending, a 13.4 percent increase from the last fiscal year.

The recommendation will maintain reserves at 36.4 percent, among the highest in the state’s history, while increasing investments in areas like education, public safety and economic development.

The budget recommendation includes the following expenditures related to education – but nothing for CTE:

  • Almost $277 million to provide 7 percent raises to New Mexico educators and increase base educator pay levels, putting New Mexico teacher salaries above those of neighboring states;
  • $195.1 million to expand pre-K capacity, boost early childhood educators’ salaries and launch new programs that support New Mexico’s youngest learners;
  • $85.5 million to make tuition-free college available to more New Mexicans than ever before through the Opportunity Scholarship;
  • $11.4 million for literacy programs that provide specialized reading instruction and support for K-12 students;
  • $10.5 million for programs that help teachers pay for college and pay off loans;
  • $10 million for the state’s dual-credit program, in which high school students earn college and high school credits at the same time;
  • $50 million to create a Media Academy that provides training, internships and other resources for students seeking to enter the state’s film and media industry.

Brandt isn’t optimistic about the legislature doling out CTE dollars this year: “I know it’s something that’s been talked about, but I don’t know if the legislature is ready to make that jump,” he said, knowing the state’s funding formula will need to be adjusted.

“(They) don’t know what factor to put into it,” Brandt said. “I think the finance committee’s going to want a clear understanding for the funding formula, and if so, how much for CTE?”

 

Maybe in the 2023 Legislature?

Brandt thinks addressing CTE in the 2023 legislative session would give the education committee or Legislative Finance Committee more time to consider the funding formula. He’d like CTE to get some money this year, though.

“Trades are vital. We need to create pathways for people – by 10th grade, you know if you want to go to college,” he said.

“The question is, does there need to be a multiplier added for CTE?” Brandt said. “I still don’t think the answers are there yet to change the funding formula. … We’ve been talking about these CTE issues for years, and yet we’re still talking about it.”

Sonny Liu, the public schools analyst who works with the Legislative Finance Committee, wasn’t optimistic about RRPS receiving CTE dollars this year.

“The funding formula generates upwards of about $9,000 per student; within that formula is a factor for high school students, specifically 1.25 now (or $9,000 x 1.25),” he said. “The additional 0.25 was kind of buried in the formula, but I think there’s renewed interested in the state for students who don’t move into a college pathway.”

Liu noted that “All that federal relief fund — about $1.5 billion that went to schools — can be used for CTE as well.” But he didn’t expect any legislative help otherwise.

“There have been appropriations for CTE; the legislature has been interested in looking at other high-performing countries and states (when it comes to CTE), but there’s probably not room for a big formula reform,” Liu added. “It’s a short session and getting the budget passed (is a higher priority).”

He offered hope that an interim committee could develop recommendations for the 60-day session in 2023, but “done at a statewide scale, would be a very big proposal.”

Another way to help fund CTE is through the federal Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Act. What has Perkins meant lately to RRPS?

“We receive a small amount of federal money through the Perkins Grant, or the Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V), which supports the expansion of CTE,” said RRPS Chief Communications, Strategy and Engagement Officer Beth Pendergrass. “This year we received $128,267. When we apply for Perkins, we also apply for the Next Gen Grant from NMPED. We got $29,987 from that grant.”

About the author

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer