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CareerTech funding not enough to meet student demand

Student demand for enrollment in programs offered by Oklahoma’s
career and technology agency is more than the agency can afford to meet.

When school starts this year, about 12,000 Oklahoma
students will be on a waiting list for a slot in a CareerTech-funded class,
including 7,400 high school students wanting to take a class offered at school,
4,500 students wanting to enroll in a CareerTech
Center and 400 former students
wanting to enroll in CareerTech’s dropout recovery program.

“It’s very disheartening when you have to tell a
superintendent that says ‘I have 150 students that want to take this program,’
that ‘I can’t fund you,'” said Phil Berkenbile, director of the Oklahoma
Department of Career and Technology Education.

The agency’s state funding was increased about 4 percent to
$157 million for the fiscal year that began July 1.

CareerTech officials plan to ask the agency’s board of
directors to approve a request that lawmakers provide $15.2 million in the next
budget year to fund new programs, equipment and other costs to meet the demand
for programs.

“It’s not just about providing new programs,”
Berkenbile said. “It’s about expanding old programs, also.”

In Tulsa, where
about 10,000 students enroll in a CareerTech class each year, demand is mostly
for business information and technology programs, said Harold Helton, Tulsa
Public School’s CareerTech programs
director. The district offers about 75 programs for students in middle through
high school.

“We always have more requests than what the state is
able to fund, so we try to go ahead and offer those classes in TPS without the
funding,” Helton said. That usually means cobbling together district
funding with federal grants to jump-start programs, he said.

Berkenbile noted that the CareerTech programs often play a
vital role in keeping kids involved in school and in finding a niche.

CareerTech classes vary, but the ones most in demand
generally teach real-life skills, such as family and consumer sciences.

In the family and consumer classes, students are drawn to
studies on financial literacy, relationships and parenting, Berkenbile said.
Technology classes can also include small-engine or appliance repair,
carpentry, or automotive service, all of which require much more computer-savvy
skills than in years past.

Teens especially are interested in the “hands-on
training,” Berkenbile said. “They can see what their capabilities are
and they can get a job at an early age and make a good living,” he said.
Some programs allow kids to earn college credit.

“We have some people earning an associate’s degree before
they get out of high school,” he said.

Berkenbile noted that CareerTech is increasingly seeing
demand for health care workers, especially in respiratory care and surgical

“We’re tremendously short of those kinds of positions,
and people to fill those kinds of positions,” he said, adding that demand
will only grow as baby boomers reach retirement ages.

And, he said, despite the losses of major Oklahoma
manufacturing businesses, the industry remains strong in the state, he said.
For example, demand is high for people skilled as welders or metal workers, he

Information from: Tulsa World,

– Associated Press

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