CTE in Texas: The Intersection of School Choice and Career Readiness 

July 07, 2023  

Why Career & Technical Education is essential to Texas and unique to public schools 

Public schools provide more choices to Texas families today than ever before. At first glance, public school choice options might include diverse extracurricular opportunities, magnet programs, and innovative learning models, like montessori and dual language. But one of the oldest and most ubiquitous public school choice options that continues to expand and grow in popularity among students and their families are Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs.  

The vision for public school CTE programs is two-fold: 

1. provide students with learning opportunities that align with their interests, talents, and gifts; and 

2. equip students with the skills and training to meet the state’s present and future workforce demands. 

CTE Programs Have Come a Long Way

What began as “vocational” training, primarily in technical industries, has expanded to career-focused learning, including certifications and internships in a variety of fields. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) now categorizes the state’s CTE programs in 14 clusters, with up to 53 career specializations students can pursue, depending on availability and eligibility. Public school districts across the state are offering robust CTE opportunities, that are continuously reimagined to meet local workforce demands.

In North East ISD, for example, students have access to cutting-edge technology and training to learn about cybersecurity and earn much-needed certifications. Students graduate from high school and are able to apply for one of the thousands of unfilled cybersecurity-focused positions in the San Antonio region. 

Student taking CTE courses - school choice
Students taking CTE courses - school choice

In Brazosport ISD, students can choose among a variety of industry-based programs and pursue learning in rocketry, welding, healthcare, and more. The Rockets Engineering II class at Brazoswood High School set a 2022 world record, and students have access to partnerships with NASA, BASF, and other organizations in the field. 

Deborah Caldwell, Executive Director of External Relations, North East ISD, describes Texas public school CTE programs as an essential form of modern-day school choice. “Public schools are giving kids choice through CTE programs and other magnet-type programs where students are able to explore their interests, build their skills, and come out with industry-based certifications that make them hireable on the spot,” she said. 

Caldwell emphasizes the importance of meeting workforce needs with trained employees who can drive the state’s future economy. “CTE programs are so important because they’re inserting kids into the workforce pipeline of the community,” she said. 

In her study for the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, Rachel Rosen explores the school choice aspect of CTE. “As it continues to evolve and grow, CTE may be one of the driving factors in how families make high school choices,” she writes. “Ensuring that families have salient information related to the wide variety of CTE options should be a priority.” 

Public Schools are Home for CTE Programs

Many say public schools are the only place Texans can find high-quality CTE programs with diverse offerings across the state. “Because they are already part of the fabric of our communities, public schools have the best access to up-to-date information about local industry needs,” said Dr. Libby Cohen, Senior Director of Advocacy at Raise Your Hand Texas. “Public schools are able to leverage relationships to form partnerships with community colleges and employers, pivot according to communities’ needs, and stay on the cutting edge of workforce demands,” she said. 

In recent statewide polling on key education issues, Texans were asked if they would support increased state funding for public schools to provide a variety of services. Among the services polled, the most popular item was expanding CTE training, supported by an overwhelming 95% of Texans. 

“CTE programs are a win-win for Texas families and the state’s workforce,” said Dr. Michelle Smith, Executive Director of Raise Your Hand Texas. “They provide innovative choice options for students to pursue their interests and talents, and they support our communities’ workforce demands and the state’s future economy,” she said. 

“Public schools are the home to CTE. They are where these programs were born, built, and continue to flourish. If Texans support CTE, they should look no further than our Texas public schools.” 

Michelle Smith

Executive Director, Raise Your Hand Texas

While our school districts continue to recognize the importance of choice and opportunities that CTE programs offer our students for a 21st workforce, there is still much work to make sure the state continues to increase financial support for these programs. Right now, the Texas House Select Committee on Educational Opportunity and Enrichment is meeting to discuss the future of quality public school choice, and you can make your voice heard by encouraging greater investment into CTE programs in our public schools. Add your voice to the conversation by providing electronic comments. It is easy and can be done here.

Be sure to connect with a Raise Your Hand Texas Regional Advocacy Director to find out how you can get more involved in your communities.

Tags: CTE school choice vouchers workforce training

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