First Bell: Bond plans for Career and Tech Ed enhancements being formed

One aspect of the upcoming Lawrence school bond issue that hasn’t gotten gotten much attention yet is the plan to use part of the proceeds to enhance career and technical education offerings to local students.

Superintendent Rick Doll said last week that’s because there haven’t been many specific plans to discuss … so far.

But that has started to change in recent weeks and months, thanks in large part to a new sense of cooperation with Kansas University.

According to Doll, ideas are now starting to take shape around the idea of building a new facility that would somehow be made available to Johnson County and/or Kansas City, Kan., community colleges. They, in turn, would offer certain classes for both high school students and post-secondary students to train in vocational programs.

It seems odd that in a community so saturated in higher education offerings that students in Douglas County would have so little access to those programs. Currently, though, a high school student wanting to train for certain careers that don’t require four-year college degrees generally have to look elsewhere — either to the community colleges in the Kansas City area, Washburn Institute of Technology in Topeka or to one of the state’s other technical colleges.

That’s because of a somewhat obscure law in Kansas that gives Regents institutions something akin to a monopoly on higher education within their own communities. Kansas State University, for example, cannot set up a satellite campus in Lawrence and start offering courses similar to KU’s at a lower cost. And vice-versa.

That has been changing in recent years. It started with a law passed a few years ago requiring each of the state-funded technical schools to affiliate with a nearby community college or university.

More recently, Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through a career and technical education initiative aimed at expanding access to those programs. High school students now can attend career-training programs at a post-secondary school tuition-free. And school districts can receive $1,000 for each student they graduate who has already earned an industry-recognized certificate in training programs for jobs deemed to be in high demand in Kansas. Districts can also get state aid for the transportation costs.

That bill just passed in 2012, and it’s already proving to be wildly popular, at least in those areas nearby a community college or technical school.

In Douglas County, however, access to those programs has always been limited because there is no community college or technical school in the community, and KU had a lock-down on letting any other institution come in and offer one.

But Doll said the ice is starting to thaw. He said KU is now expressing a willingness to allowing Johnson County Community College or Kansas City Kansas Community College to offer programs here, as long as they are not offering “general education” courses that are the same as KU’s.

In the weeks ahead, Doll said Lawrence school officials will start fleshing out plans for linking up with those schools to offer programs to local students. The plan would be to build the cost of any new facilities into the bond issue that the school board intends to put before voters in the April 2 election.

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