State senator explains Wisconsin Fast Forward
By state Sen. Luther Olsen
In my last column, I told you about the state’s Course Options program, which allows high school students to earn college credit for classes taken during high school.
Another state program provides educational opportunities of a different sort, by focusing on workforce training. The Wisconsin Fast Forward program started as a way to improve and enhance workforce training for adults. The recently enacted state budget expands the program to include the existing Career and Technical Education (CTE) grant program at the K-12 level under the umbrella of the Wisconsin Fast Forward Program.
Under a program included in the 2013-15 state budget, the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) can award grants to school districts of up to $1,000 for each student who receives a high school degree and completes an industry-recognized certification program. The intention of the program is to increase career and technical programming in public high schools. The first of these CTE grants were awarded this spring.
The Wisconsin Fast Forward program awards grants to public and private organizations to create and implement workforce training programs. These grants can be used to train new and existing employees of a Wisconsin company. The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) administers these grants and is also responsible for additional grant programs that are available for high schools.
For example, they have a program that funds collaborations between Wisconsin businesses and educational institutions, like high schools and technical colleges to support programs in which high school pupils receive training and job placements.
By including the CTE grant program and other grants administered by DWD into the Wisconsin Fast Forward grant program, this change will help increase DWD’s ability to respond to employer training demands. At the same time, there was concern that this modification could mean that some of the specific programs could get lost in the shuffle.
During the Joint Finance Committee’s Executive Sessions on the budget, we modified the governor’s recommendation to require DWD to maintain the current level of funding for the CTE Grants as was available this year. Another reason for the consolidation is to improve efficiency.
DWD maintains a labor market information system database which is used to collect, analyze, and disseminate information on current and projected employment opportunities in the state. DWD makes the information contained in the system available, free of charge, to school districts, technical colleges, tribal colleges, institutions and college campuses within the University of Wisconsin System, local workforce development boards, employers, job seekers, and the general public.
In some ways, the CTE grant program duplicated part of this work by requiring DPI to create a list of industries and occupations with shortages and share that information with school districts. DWD is already collecting and analyzing this information and makes it available to public schools. In addition, DWD works with specific employers who need workers with additional training in certain areas. It makes sense, and may be more efficient, to have DWD work directly with school districts.
Additionally, while the original intention of the CTE grants was to encourage schools to improve career and technical programming for high school students, there is no requirement that the money be used this way. DWD, with its knowledge of employer training needs and labor market dynamics, now can improve upon how the program links to needs of the employers in different areas of the state.
As I mentioned, the career and technical grants are another way to expand educational options, meeting the needs of a wide variety of students. I believe the changes made in the state budget will make the program stronger. In upcoming columns, I will focus on some programs in public schools, like the Special Education Open Enrollment program.