Texas high school students looking to get a head start on their careers via vocational and technical education classes will have more options in future school years, thanks to recently passed legislation.

House Bill 5, which was signed into law June 19, is best known for reducing from 15 to five the number of standardized tests high school students must take to graduate. However, the bill also revised the state’s graduation requirements, making it easier for students looking to enroll in career and technical education courses while earning the necessary credits to graduate.

“What (the bill) does is offer more flexibility in course offerings and graduation plans,” said Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, who authored the bill and is largely credited with guiding it successfully though the legislative process. “This will give students more options, and allow school districts to expand their career and technical education programs.”

Under the state’s current “four-by-four” graduation requirements, many career and technical education courses would not count toward credits in core curriculum areas. For example, a student could take a computer science class, yet it would be counted only as an elective credit, and not as a science class, which is a core requirement for graduation.

“In the more rigid four-by-four plan, it was very difficult to have kids take courses they needed to take for (career and technical education), plus the courses that were required for graduation,” Aycock said.

House Bill 5 creates graduation requirements that allow for the development of career and technical education courses that will count toward some of those core classes.

“We have students who want to be career-ready and college-ready,” said Diana Miller, chief academic officer for the Killeen Independent School District. “HB5 means they can be ready to enter the workforce as well as enter college.”

The upcoming school year will mark the second academic year for the district’s Career Center, which allows KISD high school juniors and seniors to earn professional licences and certificates in a number of professional industries. The changes outlined in HB5 could open the door for the center to expand programs, and for more students to take career and technical courses while they work toward graduation.

But which career and technical courses will count for each credit has yet to be determined by the Texas State Board of Education.

“The board of education still has some details to hammer out, but overall it will allow a much more flexible system,” Aycock said.

Cove career center

The attempt to bolster and expand career and vocation opportunities for Texas students comes at a time when another local school district is also considering beefing up its own career and technical education programs.

The Copperas Cove Independent School District’s board of trustees is mulling the possibility of creating a career center on its historic Avenue E campus.

While no decision has been made, board president Joan Manning said there was a strong desire to offer students more options.

“It’s something we are very excited about,” she said. “We want to give our students as many opportunities to be successful as we can. It may take some time, but we are definitely moving in that direction.”

Tom Pauken, former chairman of the Texas Workforce Commission and candidate for governor, said students would not be the only ones to benefit from House Bill 5. Pauken said that the state desperately needs skilled workers in its ranks, and cited an excessive emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and a “one-size-fits-all” focus on preparing all students for college as some of the culprits.

“The good news is that manufacturing in Texas is booming, but the bad news is that we have a shortage of skilled workers,” Pauken said. “We choked off the pipeline of skilled workers. We don’t have the students coming out of those career and vocational programs with the necessary training.”

Pauken, who supported Aycock and HB5 during its path through the legislative process, said he was hopeful that the reforms in the bill would strengthen the state’s workforce. He called for greater cooperation between school districts, colleges and business to help prepare students to be both college and career ready.

“It needs to be everyone working together,” he said.

Contact Chris McGuinness at chrism@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7568. Follow him on Twitter at ChrismKDH.

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