It’s no secret – Maine’s workforce is shrinking. We’re the oldest state in the nation, and as our aging population deservedly retires, we’re losing many of the contributors to our economy. Eighty percent of manufacturers in Maine report that talent shortages will affect their ability to meet customer demand. As two of the youngest legislators in Augusta, we see many of our peers leaving the state instead of picking up those jobs. Something needs to be done, and career and technical education has to be a part of the solution.

Career and technical education teaches Maine’s young people the hard skills they need to find good-paying jobs right here in Maine. CTE programs produce the electricians, mechanics, carpenters, engineers and more that serve our communities. More than that, it outlines a clear path to those jobs, giving students confidence that there’s a vibrant future ahead of them in our state.

We’re lucky that we have 27 CTE centers scattered across Maine serving more than 8,000 high school students and many more in Adult Education programs. These programs boast incredible success rates. Ninety percent of CTE students graduate – that’s 3 percentage points higher than the share of non-CTE students who graduate. Enrollment in CTE also significantly increases the likelihood that a low-income student will graduate, and 60 percent of CTE students plan to pursue a career related to the area they’re exploring in high school.

It’s clear that CTE is the right educational path for many Mainers and can be a solution to our workforce problems, yet we are not investing in these programs the way we should be. Maine’s CTE centers have not received an infusion of money for equipment and capital improvements since 1998, 21 years ago. If we want students to be able to go immediately into the workforce, they need to be trained on the quality equipment that’s being used in their industries today. CTE centers also struggle to find the funds needed to make basic updates to their buildings. Many need repairs to their roofs or heating systems and cannot make those upgrades without taking money from program needs.

Much of the funding problem comes from serious flaws in how CTE budgets are determined and allocated in Maine. The CTE essential programs and services funding formula does not allow for equipment costs, making the budgets flawed from the start. A well-equipped lab located in a sound space can train adults and welcome new companies that wish to move to Maine and require specific training for new workers as a requisite. Our CTE centers could operate 24-7 if need be.

In the Legislature, a bipartisan group of 111 legislators has co-sponsored a bill that would get CTE the funding it deserves. L.D. 859 would invest $40 million in CTE via a bond issue that would go to Maine voters for their approval. If approved, the funding would allow Maine’s 27 CTE schools to make long-overdue investments in equipment and capital projects.

This issue doesn’t just have support from the Legislature. Just this week, Gov. Mills presented her strategic bond package investment proposal and included $5 million for CTE. Public voices are also calling for increased CTE funding. Mainers value these programs and want to see more students benefiting.

Education is not one size fits all. Career and technical education is providing an educational path that many Maine students want and need. CTE programs lead these students directly into good-paying jobs with growth opportunities that create a balanced way of life. Those job opportunities give students a reason to stay in Maine, increasing our workforce and making sure we have all necessary industries and services. Well-equipped labs, shops and CTE schools need to reflect the indisputable fact that CTE is not only teaching America’s future leaders in business and industry, but also preparing Maine students for the 21st century.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.