Pence calls for more and better vocational education

By Olivia Ober
The Statehouse File

GREENWOOD, Ind. — Republican Mike Pence said Tuesday that the first public policy initiative in his campaign for governor would be a push to improve technical and vocational education for Indiana high school students.

U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, a Republican running for U.S. Senate, said Tuesday that he wants to bolster vocational education to help students who go directly into the workplace from high school. Photo by Olivia Ober, The Statehouse File.

He didn’t say, though, how the state would pay for the changes.

Pence said he wants to create what he calls Indiana Works Councils – IWCs. These would be regional groups made up of employees and educators who evaluate opportunities for students in that region. The IWCs would tailor public schools’ curriculum to address the needs of students who enter the workforce directly after graduation.

Pence also recommended changes in the curriculum of high schools to better suit students pursing career, technical or vocational education. The curriculum would be aimed at giving students opportunities to pursue internships, apprenticeships or industry certification.

Pence said this change will increase private sector employment and improve the quality of the Hoosier workforce.

“We must make it our aim to have more Hoosiers going to work than ever in our state’s history,” Pence said. “Our object should be nothing less than Indiana having the best educated and best skilled workforce.”

In 2001, 1 percent of high school graduates earned a Core40 with Technical Honors diploma – an advanced vocational education degree – even though Indiana had the third-highest percentage of high school graduates in the workforce. Pence said increasing the number of students who receive a Core40 with Technical Honors degree is the best way to address what he calls a “skills gap” in Indiana.

“Every Hoosier recognizes the value of a college degree,” Pence said. “The fact is, though, not every student is college bound, but every student desires the same opportunity for success. … All honest work is honorable work.”

Pence didn’t say how many IWCs that would be necessary but said legislation would have to decide where to divide the regions.

“This has to be a bottom-up, locally-driven, community-driven process,” Pence said.

Pence did not have an estimate of the cost of changing curriculum geared towards Core40 with Technical Honors. He said the IWCs would have to make decisions on what programs needed to be changed before one could estimate the cost.

Shortly after Pence’s announcement, Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg released a statement agreeing with Pence that Hoosiers should improve technical and vocational opportunities for high school graduates, but said that creation of another committee to appoint these changes is not the answer. Gregg called for “less talk and more action.”

“I also don’t think we ought to have another group from Indianapolis, dictating on high to teachers and local administrators,” Gregg said in his statement. “The best ideas don’t come out of Washington, DC or from Indianapolis – they come from classrooms throughout the state.”

Chris Lowery, director of Public Policy and Engagement at Hillenbrand, Inc. and president of the Batesville School Board, who joined Pence at the press conference, supports editing the current curriculum.

“It is time that we recognize that every student’s path to career success does not include college,” said Lowery. “We have great jobs available for those students right now, and employers and educators need to work together to give students the skills to be successful in those jobs.”

Olivia Ober is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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