At Pike High School in Indianapolis, nutrition teacher Kam Bontrager is guiding students through their last lab of the semester. The task for the day? Making smoothies.
His class is part of the Family and Consumer Sciences program. It has, among other things, classes in nutrition, child development, and interpersonal relationships. They teach skills an average adult uses daily – things like using a measuring cup, how to write a resume, or avoid sexually transmitted diseases.
FCS Department Chair Amber McKinney says too many people have an antiquated idea of what she teaches. She says even other teachers imagine her classes to be like their grandma’s home economics class.
“... sewing pillows, sewing flannel boxer shorts, things like that. Making rice crispy treats and cookies. And that’s so far from what we do,” she says
In the past, these “foundational classes” received incentive funding from the Indiana Department of Education. For every high school student that took a class, schools would get $150 of the state’s career and technical education funds. But a reccomendation sent to the Indiana State Board of Education earlier this month would officially remove that funding for five of those classes.
And McKinney says even though schools could still offer the courses, the question is: How will they pay for it?
“I mean look around at our facility,” she says, gesturing to the stainless steel refrigerators and a row of modern-looking ovens. “This is not a cheap – it’s not just a classroom with desks. If the school is not getting funding for that, it would be tough for a school to carry on that program.”
The change was first proposed to the Governor’s Workforce Cabinet in 2018 by a group of career and technical education leaders. They were tasked with figuring out how Indiana could use CTE programs to have more Hoosiers earning technical credentials.
“Well we were charged with – as an action team – reviewing the total CTE system,” Alan Taylor, a CTE director in southern Indiana and a member of that team, says.
They found that more than a quarter of all students – about 50,000 – taking CTE classes in Indiana were only taking these foundational skills classes. From 2016 to 2018, only about 54 percent of students who took a foundational skills class would go on to take a class that teaches a specific occupation. Even then, only 17 percent took the next course in that career pathway. So in the action team's final report, they wrote that funding the foundational classes created a “perverse incentive” for schools to avoid offering more career-specific classes.
“Though we have a record number of participating students ... we want more of those students to choose a pathway in a very conscious manner so they’re earning stackable credentials and dual credits and maybe post-secondary certificates,” Taylor says.
He says when they wrote the recommendation, it wasn’t intended to snub those foundational skills classes. It’s just a matter of priorities. But he understands how teachers could be upset by the funding change.
“And again, I know it’s a matter of perspective,” he says. “The funding wasn’t cut – we actually, in Indiana, increased the funding to CTE, [but] it was redistributed. And we do that every couple of years.”
Soon after, language was added into a whopping budget bill that passed in the general assembly. It removed the category of “foundational career and technical education courses” from the funding list. So when it came time for the DWD to submit their funding plan to the State Board of Education they omitted five of the six foundational classes. The other was recategorized.
In light of all this, some Pike High School students wonder if their school will cut those classes if it doesn’t get incentive funds next year.
“The classes like this are not just like classes you take for fun,” says 16-year-old Mya Guzman. “This class is an important class. It actually helps you throughout life.
“It teaches you a lot of life skills that you should know,” says 15-year-old RaMya Nelson.
On Dec. 27, the State Board of Education will hold a special meeting about the funding changes even though, according to a spokesperson, Indiana law requires them to approve it before Jan. 1. Even if that happens, schools can still appeal the decision through the Department of Workforce Development.
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