Partnership academies, the linchpin of the state’s career and technical education, face a critical year ahead. Funding expires for 210 of the 500 academies at the end of the school year. And there will be renewed pressure to remove protections that have preserved annual funding for the remaining 290.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, like governors before him, has praised partnership academies as a win-win for student achievement and the state’s workforce. But academies remain vulnerable to budget cuts with the state facing a $25 billion budget deficit.
Partnership academies are small communities within a larger high school. Students in the three-year programs take core academic classes and technical classes related to the academy’s theme, whether information technology, business, health, biotechnology, construction and engineering, or themes tied to other industry sectors.
Students must participate in business internships in their junior or senior year, exposing them to the work world and mentorships with partnering companies. At least half of the students must be at risk of dropping out.
Program evaluations consistently have been positive. As David Stern, professor emeritus at the UC-Berkeley Graduate School of Education, noted recently, “Academies are one of the only education and youth programs that have produced long-term and sustained impacts on employment and earnings, especially for young males of color, the subgroup that is most vulnerable to long-term spells of unemployment.” Academy students tend to graduate and go on to college in higher numbers, and years later, report higher incomes.
And the academies are a bargain. Schools receive $900 extra per student who meets attendance requirements and completes course credits – up to $81,000 per year for the 90-student program. Business partners are obligated to put up a match.
Total funding for all 500 is $40 million – only about a tenth of 1 percent of expenditures for K-12. But the timing is bad nonetheless. Five years ago, Schwarzenegger pushed through funding for an additional 150 academies through the general fund, and 60 additional green technology academies were separately established. Both programs will expire in June.
In September, Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 675, sponsored by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, which would have established 97 more green-tech academies by diverting $8 million from a small surcharge on electricity charges run by the Energy Commission. Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, a big proponent of developing alternative energy and a green economy, would presumably be more receptive to the bill if it were reintroduced. But there’s no obvious source of new funding for the other academies.
The 290 original partnership academies, some of which date back 25 years, have been funded as a separate categorical fund. One idea, proposed by the Legislative Analyst’s Office this year, would be to direct the $19 million for them into a larger career and technology education block grant to counties, along with $383 million for regional occupational centers and $15 million for apprenticeship programs. Counties or districts could use the money however they wanted for career and technology education.
Stern, the Cal professor, thinks that’s a bad idea, because districts would no longer be bound to adhere to the elements that have made partnership academies successful: internships, cohorts of students learning together, an industry advisory board, a cohesive three-year program.
But LAO analyst Jim Soland said that the counties or districts would be free to create funding criteria that match partnership academies’ expectations: high graduation rate, inclusion of A-G core classes, successful internships. Districts whose partnership academies no longer are achieving results or have lost full industry partners could shift the money elsewhere.
At a time when the state Dept. of Education no longer has the staff to monitor all 500 programs – that job is now handled by two people – that may make sense. But it has taken many years to build successful partnership academies, and it would take only one year of discontinued funding for them to fall apart. Successful academies will need advocates and defenders this year.