But even as the fate of that proposed borrowing has yet to be determined, lawmakers are already starting to explore the next big bond issue that could go before voters.
Reitmeyer reports that a bipartisan group of legislators that is looking at ways the state can better support an ongoing rebirth of the New Jersey manufacturing industry took testimony on October 17 from representatives of the state’s 21 county vocational school districts, who are seeking more funding to help keep pace with a rising demand for technical training that’s being driven, in part, by the manufacturing sector.
To fill the void, the lawmakers are considering floating a new state bond issue to help the vocational schools build new facilities, expand current classroom space, and update equipment. And they learned from the vocational school representatives yesterday that it could take nearly $900 million to fund the projects that the 21 school districts have on their wish lists.
A final draft of the proposed bond issue is still months away from being prepared, and it almost certainly won’t be enough to cover the full amount that was outlined yesterday during a meeting at the County College of Morris in Randolph.
But the vocational-school officials also made the case that as the job market is starting to tip more toward workers with technical skills, and as the cost of going to a four-year college continues to rise, it makes sense for the state to invest more heavily in career and technical education.
New Jersey has raised more than $12 billion in bond sales to help fund K-12 school facilities throughout the state over the last two decades.
Another $750 million in bonds were sold in 2012 to pay for capital improvements at four-year and two-year colleges and universities. But only about $150 million has made it to the 21 vocational schools for capital investments, even as they’ve seen interest among students soar in recent years.
Judy Savage, executive director of the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools, said that of the nearly 30,000 students who applied this year to attend a vocational school, only a little more than 12,000 could be accepted due to space constraints.
Savage’s organization also just conducted a statewide needs assessment, and only two schools said they had no need to expand facilities or build new ones to keep up with demand. In all, the council determined there’s a need for $891 million in spending to meet the construction, renovation, and equipment needs across the state.
And while some people still consider career and technical training to be “a lesser option” compared to a four-year degree, Savage said many vocational schools are now working to meet the training requirements of some of the hottest sectors in the state economy, including logistics and distribution, and advanced manufacturing.
The lawmakers also learned about a partnership between Morris County’s vocational school and the county college, which involves high school students getting instruction inside labs on the college campus. Many are also graduating from the vocational school having already earned college credits.
And officials from both schools are also coordinating with local manufacturers to ensure the students are learning skills that can be applied immediately after they graduate, or with just a year of additional training at the college.
For Reitmeyer’s full story, click here.
Follow John Reitmeyer on Twitter @johnreitmeyer.