Tennessee has won a $2 million grant to strengthen career preparation for middle and high school students, state leaders announced Wednesday.
The grant is through the New Skills for Youth program, which is supported by the Council of Chief State School Officers and JPMorgan Chase & Co. Nine other states also received funding for a total of $20 million in awards.
The funding will be distributed over three years with the goal of expanding career-focused education from middle school to beyond high school graduation.
Career preparation is a major focus in Tennessee. In 2013, Gov. Bill Haslam launched a Drive to 55 initiative with the goal that at least 55 percent of Tennesseans will have postsecondary degrees or other high-skill job certifications by 2025.
And in the State Department of Education’s draft plan for the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, officials propose holding schools accountable for the number of career opportunities, like apprenticeships, that are available to students.
“Our work in K-12 education is to prepare students for success beyond our classrooms, and Tennessee is fully committed to strengthening postsecondary and workforce readiness for all students,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a press release. “Funding from this grant will allow us to expand opportunities for students to access early postsecondary opportunities that can equip them for jobs and open doors for them as they graduate from high school, particularly in rural or economically distressed areas and in expanding industries.”
Part of the reason Tennessee’s grant application stood out was its focus on equity, said Chris Minnich, the council’s executive director. “One of the big things that we were looking for is that every child would have access (to these programs),” he said.
Minnich hopes the grant will elevate the prestige of career education. Historically, vocational and career education has been used to track students into separate groups, often based on race or socioeconomic status.
“Career technical education cannot be something left to a certain group of kids who are not going to college,” he said. “These grants are a step in that direction.”
Other states receiving grants are Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and Wisconsin.