Public high school students who aren’t college-bound will soon need to obtain job skills certifications before they can receive a diploma, under plans that received support Thursday from the state education board.
The redesign of Louisiana’s career-track diploma, pushed by Superintendent of Education John White, emphasizes skills training for students who don’t intend to go to a four-year university.
White said the new program, called “Jump Start,” will better prepare students for available jobs in a state where only 28 percent of residents have a degree from a four-year or two-year college. He said the remaining students need skills training to fill the jobs available to them.
“Jump Start tries to address those kids, to give them a path to the middle class,” White told the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
A BESE committee agreed to the plans without objection, with 10 of the board’s 11 members present for the vote. A follow-up vote Friday will give the diploma redesign final passage.
All public school districts will have to make the changes by the 2016-17 school year. The first students to receive the new diploma will graduate in 2018.
High school students who seek a career-track diploma will be required to get an industry-based certification or credentials earned through dual-enrollment coursework at a technical school or community college in order to graduate and earn their diploma.
More time will be set aside during the junior and senior years for the training. For example, students could become certified electricians, plumbers or mechanics or get training in web design, all while still in high school.
Students on a path to a four-year university will be able to take “Jump Start” courses as electives, outside of the courses required for the college-track diploma.
New dollars for career education courses will flow to school districts to help cover costs. Grants will be offered this year to encourage school districts to start phasing in the program earlier than required.
Business organizations supported the overhaul, saying Louisiana is experiencing an industrial boom but currently has too few people trained to take the tens of thousands of jobs expected with planned petrochemical industry expansions.
“If we fail as a community to provide our citizens with the skills to fill these jobs, these investments will be lost to other states and to other countries,” said Deidra Jackson, a Louisiana-based lobbyist for chemical company BASF.
Parents of special education students opposed the changes, saying they will make it harder for their children to get a diploma.
“Jump Start is not a diploma option for all students,” said Liz Gary, a parent from St. Tammany Parish who said her son has a developmental disability. “We have done nothing to think about students with disabilities.”
Others worried about whether small school districts will have the money to roll out the redesign and questioned who will ensure that private course providers are offering quality training.
White’s department has worked on the redesign for about a year.