I have long encouraged those interested in improving our public schools to look to state and local leaders for the ideas that will have the most success and help students. That is the fundamental idea behind Conservative Leaders for Education (CL4E), a group of state policy leaders I helped found two years ago that is dedicated to improving our schools by developing and implementing practical solutions to problems.
One of CL4E’s members, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, recently exercised exactly that kind of leadership. It is an example worth taking a closer look at.
A few years ago Lt. Governor Cagle led an effort to launch a new program — The Georgia Consortium for Advanced Technical Training (GA CATT) — that creates a new pathway for students to achieve simultaneously a solid academic foundation and an industry-recognized certificate in a high-value career. Thanks to the commitment of private sector manufacturing partners, high school apprentices receive valuable hands-on training, personal and career mentoring, and up to $25,000 in compensation for their work while in the program. These students will graduate ready to accept high-skilled, high-paying jobs in some of Georgia’s most advanced industries. GA CATT is the first program of this specific kind in the nation, explicitly structured on a German Apprenticeship model that has been successful for decades in preparing students for these kind of excellent career opportunities.
But as GA-CATT was implemented there was a problem. The model requires students to enter the program sequence in their sophomore year, when students are often 15 –years-old. However, an outdated federal labor regulation prohibits any 15- year-old from participating in any apprenticeship or career and technical education (CTE) program at the site of any manufacturer.
So although the student’s school district, the state Department of Education, and these cutting edge businesses had all developed a careful plan for all activities for these students, which involves absolutely no production and is modelled on the same program successfully in place for decades in Germany – an old federal labor regulation still blocked their participation in the new program.
Fortunately, Lt. Governor Cagle did not give up, which is not surprising given he has long championed education as “the great equalizer.” Also, fortunately, we have new leadership in the agencies in Washington D.C. that believe in state and local control. The Lt. Governor went to work on a solution for these students and with the support of CL4E and others, the federal Department of Labor recently granted a special approval and waiver of the old regulation for GA CATT to be implemented as designed.
This was a big win not only for the students who will have full access to this cutting edge CTE opportunity, but also for those who know that state and local leaders are the ones to trust in developing truly effective educational initiatives. There has been much talk in recent years about the need to invigorate CTE programs, but a lot more talk than action. The nation is sorely in need of more diverse models that successfully prepare and transition students into great careers. GA CATT is real action on one such model, and action other states developing new CTE options can look to. This is federalism at work, and a great example of a state policy leader putting practical, conservative thinking into implementation – exactly what CL4E exists to help advance.
Unfortunately, that outdated federal regulation remains on the books as a hurdle for other states. Every step should be taken at the federal level to remove these kinds of barriers to new state CTE approaches and at the state level to develop multiple rigorous CTE paths for students that lead them into successful career opportunities.
But today, Lt. Governor Cagle and the state of Georgia deserve thanks for taking a big step in the right direction.
William J. Bennett is the former Secretary of Education and currently serves as Chairman of Conservative Leaders for Education.