Editorial: Career Tech Funding is Broken—Here’s How We Can Fix It

6 mins read

Last fiscal year, M-A’s Career Technical Education (CTE) Department only received $6,500 out of the District’s $924,053 from a special state grant, despite being one of the largest CTE departments in the District.

The Career Technical Education Incentive Grant (CTEIG) boosts career technical programs with crucial supplementary funding. To be eligible for the grant, teachers must earn additional credentials and align their programs to stricter standards. M-A has four CTEIG-eligible programs: Woodworking and Architecture, Digital Filmmaking, Culinary Arts, and the Computer Academy.

Although CTEIG funding initially provided much-needed support for M-A’s programs, in recent years the process has become complicated and time-consuming, leaving M-A’s CTE programs in a constant state of instability. The District offers little help and communication throughout the annual application process, which they’ve structured in a way that unnecessarily isolates M-A’s CTE teachers and can discourage them from requesting state funds. As a result, these important vocational classes lack resources, and teachers are frustrated, confused, and burnt out.

The Application

The CTEIG application process is so tedious that some M-A teachers have stopped asking for money altogether. To qualify for CTEIG funding, teachers must complete a 32-page application form and budget spreadsheet every year for each CTE pathway they manage.

Culinary Arts teacher Craig Barnard, who received about $6,000 from CTEIG, said that for his first application he had to outline every individual food item, how he was going to get it, and how much it was going to cost in his application. While Barnard is able to copy his application each time, as he asks for the same materials, other teachers must re-do the entire application.

Since this process takes an extensive amount of time—which teachers could spend on developing their curriculum or working with students—it discourages them from applying at all.

Digital Filmmaking teacher John Giambruno said, “If you ask [the District], we’re not asking for [the money]. If you ask us, we think the process is too cumbersome so we start to give up.” He believes teachers at schools throughout the District are also feeling fatigued with the process or have given up.

The Timeline

The timeline for submitting and receiving CTEIG funding is illogical; it makes it harder for teachers to apply for and use grant money. According to the CTEIG website, applications open on August 7 and are due on September 29. However, according to interviewed teachers, they sometimes receive the necessary application materials as late as September. This leaves only a month for teachers to complete their applications when they’re already busy with a new school year.

Teachers apply for CTEIG funding in the fall but typically receive the money in April, just two months before the school year ends—they are essentially applying for funding for the following school year. 

The Poor Communication

Poor communication and instruction on the District’s part exacerbate the existing flaws in the application process, according to teachers interviewed.

Barnard said, “The CTEIG application process was never explained to me. In other places that I’ve been, they would come in and say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this much money, y’all need to spend it,’ and kind of leave it open. Here, I don’t know about the application process.”

M-A CTE Department Chair and Woodworking and Architecture teacher Mark Leeper said, “I don’t think the regulations [for CTEIG expenses] have been clearly outlined so that we understand.”

Even when teachers do apply, certain items within their requests are rejected without any explanation.

SUHSD CTE Coordinator Tiffany Burkle said that when she deems an item within a funding application “unallowable,” she’ll let teachers know why it was rejected and how it could be adjusted to fit CTEIG standards. “I don’t ever want to just reject something and leave people hanging,” she said.

However, Leeper explained, “There have been a couple of times where I’ve been told I can’t use CTEIG funds for particular things, but I don’t understand why—it’s never explained to me.” He said he tried to follow up with the District multiple times but received no response. 

Other teachers interviewed shared similar complaints that the District does not consistently respond to their inquiries. 

“When that happens a few times and I don’t get answers and I’m putting in all this work, it’s like, ‘Why bother?’” Leeper said. “I don’t have enough time to follow up and follow up and follow up again.”

The Lack of Transparency

The lack of transparency from the District is a violation of state policy and hurts teachers’ abilities to apply for funding. 

Upon an M-A Chronicle request, the District said they could not list the amount of CTEIG funding allocated to individual schools and could not release the amount of CTEIG funding allocated to individual teachers. As CTEIG funding comes out of state taxpayer money, the District should—and is legally required to—disclose this information.

Giambruno explained, “My biggest frustration is that I don’t know what other film programs are getting. I don’t know what’s fair and balanced [to request].”

He said, “We all kind of feel like we’re in the dark, even within our own department. It’s not transparent and doesn’t breed that culture of trust. We feel like we’re not trusted, so we don’t trust them.”

However, the District doesn’t have to distribute CTEIG money in this way. 

Peter Callas, Director of the Career and College Transition Division at the California Department of Education, said, “California doesn’t drive the decision on how districts distribute the money, so each district can do it whatever way they want.” 

Prior to CTEIG, the District distributed money to each school’s CTE department from a federal grant known as Perkins funding. Perkins funding still exists but with significantly less funding than before. When M-A’s CTE departments used Perkins funding, teachers—not the District—would collaborate to distribute the annual money based on which programs needed it most. Not only was this system more transparent, but more efficient. Given that the District is not required to distribute CTEIG money in any particular way, they should reinstate the format of Perkins funding—distributing money by school instead of by teacher—for CTEIG.

The Impact

CTE programs impact the development and academic success of all students. They also help students fulfill A-G required classes, so most students at M-A choose to take them.  

Callas noted, “The graduation rates for high school students in California that are part of a CTE program are about 8-10% percent higher than the regular ed students that are not in a CTE program. Attendance rates for CTE students are about 10-12% higher. These programs motivate students to be at school on a regular basis.”

CTEIG funding is necessary to provide students with the best CTE programs possible. When teachers cannot easily access that funding, those teachers and their students suffer as they lack the money for materials, compensation for curriculum development and overtime work, and more.

Barnard said he started a business on campus with his students, “Baked by Bears,” to support his program. He added, “With inflation, it’s been even tougher to use what we have.”

Giambruno said, “I’m always worried about [problems] like, what if I don’t get new computers? What happens when I’m running on 10-year-old machines? What do I do when some of [the computers] start breaking?”

Leeper said, “I think we’re going to have to have some fundraisers to make sure that we have enough money for materials.” With the amount of CTEIG funding that the District receives, teachers should not have to fundraise on their own for materials.

Additionally, teachers disillusioned with the CTEIG process sometimes turn to discretionary funding instead, which takes away money from programs such as elective classes and after-school academic support. Moreover, due to decreased student enrollment, discretionary funding has dropped, whereas CTE enrollment has not. This means that CTE programs have less money but a similar number of students.

The Solution

Fixing the CTEIG funding process requires a combination of solutions.

For one, the District should allocate CTEIG funding by school, not by teacher, just as they did with Perkins. This would enhance communication between teachers and thus help them distribute their funding with greater confidence, efficiency, and understanding. It could also improve communication between schools and the District, as administrators could meet with all the teachers at a single school to discuss their combined applications. 

Additionally, the District must help teachers through the application process, clarify CTEIG regulations, and respond to questions, specifically when they pertain to application rejections.

The District must also maintain greater transparency about the allocation of CTEIG funding. If teachers’ salaries are available to the public, then the amount of state funding they receive should be public as well.

Changes are also necessary at the state level.

The timeline for the application process must reflect the natural structure of the school year; the application timeline should begin in spring and teachers should be able to access funding for the coming year by at least late summer.

Finally, the state should allow districts to “renew” their applications instead of requiring them to re-submit new applications each year. Callas mentioned that his team has been working on this development for a couple of years.

CTE teachers have been dealing with this convoluted system for years and are tired of advocating for their programs without change. Leeper said, “People have spoken up about it, but I think it’s a matter of fatigue. There’s so much to do just to be able to teach. If I have to focus on arguing with somebody about whether or not we should get funding or I have to prepare for my kids coming in tomorrow, I’m going to focus on the kids.”

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