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Leveraging State and Federal Funding for High School Work-Based Learning


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» 2020
APRIL 14, 2021

The benefits of high school work-based learning programs, such as internships, pre-apprenticeships, and cooperative education programs, are well-documented: Young people develop employability and technical skills that can help them succeed beyond high school, while employers cultivate a pipeline of talent who have training and knowledge specific to their industry, and local communities can reduce unemployment and help attract new business and industry. Work-based learning, however, comes with some very real costs, from student workers’ salaries to transportation to materials and tools, depending on the industry.

Employers often cover the major costs, like salaries, even though it is hard to afford for many employers. To adequately fund career experiences for high school students, states frequently leverage dollars from private and public sources. Much more must be done to properly fund these programs for states to expand these opportunities for all high school students.

Financial resources can make a difference for employers. In a prior ASA survey, among employers that do not offer work-based learning opportunities to high school students, 49 percent cited lack of funding as a reason, while 39 percent said that an increase in funding would positively impact their organization’s decision to offer high school internships in the future. 

Federal Dollars Infusing Programs

While the bulk of K-12 funding comes from states, the federal government does provide dedicated funding for youth work-based learning activities, primarily through three pieces of legislation:

  1. The Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) financially supports all facets of postsecondary and secondary career and technical education (CTE) programs of study and career pathways programs, including costs associated with work-based learning.
  2. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act funds employment and training services for adults, dislocated workers, youth, and students with disabilities.
  3. The Every Student Succeeds Act provides professional development for teachers and administrators on work-based learning instruction.

In addition to annual appropriations for Perkins V, ESSA and WIOA programs, the recently passed America Rescue Plan contains $122.8 billion for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund. Governors will have discretion in allocating ESSER funds that are not dedicated for specific purposes. The American Rescue Plan also provides $350 billion to state, local and tribal governments through the Coronavirus Fiscal Recovery Fund, which could be used for a wide variety of education and/or workforce development initiatives. State governments may also explore federal grant opportunities, like the STEM Talent Challenge overseen by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, to create and implement innovative apprenticeship models.

States can, do and likely will leverage these federal funds. Under Perkins V, each state was required to submit a five-year state plan with the option to select one or more program quality indicators. A state-by-state analysis of high school work-based learning policy revealed that 29 states selected “the percentage of CTE concentrators graduating from high school having participated in work-based learning” as one of the program quality indicators. While Perkins V funds can be used to support work-based learning, the selection of this indicator suggests that work-based learning will be a focus of states’ CTE programs. Connecticut, for example, selected participation in work-based learning as the only performance quality indicator and thus will likely use Perkins V funds explicitly to support and expand these programs.

State Dollars Put to Work

In most states, schools can supplement federal funding with state dollars, using categorical funding, which is targeted to specific purposes, or foundational per-pupil base funding, which is intended to cover the basic costs of education, to finance the operation of work-based learning courses. For example, they can use these funds to reimburse teachers for the costs associated with traveling to students’ worksites. These funds also frequently cover liability insurance for students.

Approximately one-third of all states also use grant opportunities or other time-bound sources of funding for work-based learning. For example, the Delaware Department of Education implements work-based learning through its Pathways initiative, which develops CTE programs of study based on regional and state workforce needs, and has made grants available to districts to support this program. The state was also a recipient of funds through the New Skills for Youth (NSFY) initiative developed by JPMorgan Chase, Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and Advance CTE. While these grant funds are an important initial and ongoing source of support, they are not a consistent source of state funding to achieve sustainability for a program.

Five states – Iowa, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Washington – have taken the additional step of inserting a line item in the state budget or creating dedicated funding streams solely or primarily focused on creating and expanding work-based learning opportunities. South Carolina provides dedicated funding to districts to hire a work-based learning coordinator, integrate academic and CTE programming, provide staff development related to WBL, and transport students, among other things. In Massachusetts, the state provides annual funding to its Connecting Activities initiative — a statewide network of 16 workforce boards charged with supporting work-based learning and other career development education activities for students — through a line item in the state budget.

A more common approach than dedicated state funding are financial incentives, such as tax credits, to encourage businesses to host students in work-based learning programs. However, often the incentive is restricted to qualified businesses in certain industries as dictated by state or local workforce needs. In other cases, an incentive is provided only for certain types of work-based learning experiences, most commonly registered apprenticeships. Only seven states – Arkansas, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont – place no restrictions on employer or type of experience.

Some states choose to fund an intermediary to facilitate work-based learning opportunities. The PrepareRI initiative, a partnership among Rhode Island government, industry leaders, the public education system, universities, and nonprofits to prepare RI youth with the skills they need for jobs that pay, contracted with Skills for Rhode Island’s Future to serve as a statewide career readiness intermediary to facilitate connections between schools and businesses and manage the PrepareRI summer internship program.

States also reimburse employers for student-worker salaries or provide grants to cover costs. The Vermont Training Program provides performance-based workforce grants covering up to 50 percent of costs for pre-employment training, training for new hires, and training for incumbent workers. The program includes employers that partner with a school or education program to employ and train high school students participating in work-based learning experiences.

When federal and state dollars are leveraged strategically, it can reduce the burden on employers and increase equitable access to quality work-based learning opportunities. All students deserve an opportunity to attend school and learn on the job skills, with well-funded work-based learning where they can explore careers they may want to pursue someday and simultaneously earn much needed wages.

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