Vocational high-school diplomas possible in N.C.
RALEIGH — A bill working its way through the North Carolina legislature would create new high school graduation requirements focused on vocational training intended to help students not headed to college find jobs.
The measure backed by Republican Gov. Pat McCrory sailed through a legislative committee Wednesday without opposition and appears headed for a quick vote in the Senate. The bill directs education officials to develop curriculums with increased emphasis of career and technical courses. High school diplomas will carry new seals endorsing the graduate as "career ready," ''college ready" or both, depending on the courses they complete.
During his campaign for governor, McCrory derided the state's education system as broken and failing to prepare students for the work force. A spokeswoman for McCrory said Wednesday that his staff is working closely with the legislators shepherding the bill to his desk.
"Despite North Carolina having the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the country, businesses are having a hard time finding qualified employees," said press secretary Crystal Feldman. "In order to turn our economy around and get people back to work, it is essential that we address this disconnect."
North Carolina already has about 80 early college high schools — programs designed to allow students to graduate simultaneously with a high school diploma and a 2-year associate's degree issued by a nearby community college. The new program is aimed at increasing access to vocational programs that instead of yielding a college degree often result in a certificate or certification in areas such as auto repair, welding or health care technology.
Sen. Jerry W. Tillman, R-Randolph, said high schools that don't have the staff or equipment to offer these programs on their own would need to partner with community colleges.
"Those courses are going to be tailored to the needs that are out there and the jobs that are out there," said Tillman, a retired school administrator who is the bill's primary sponsor. "If you have kids in this program, they're not going to drop out."
The proposed bill does not contain any additional educational funding to develop or establish the new programs. Tillman said those details will be worked out later.
The bill would also reduce licensing requirements for career and technical teachers, potentially allowing for applicants to be hired without earning a four-year-college degree or having any classroom teaching experience.
Though teacher's groups are generally opposed to weakening licensing requirements, the North Carolina Association of Educators is backing the measure.
"We believe that this bill will not only prepare students for 21st century jobs, it will help North Carolina continue to decrease its dropout rate," said NCAE President Rodney Ellis. "Educators understand that recruiting and retaining teachers with strong work experience in trade careers is key to this initiative's success and NCAE supports flexibility in hiring for career-tech teaching positions."