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Vo-Tech Advocates Applaud Bill-Signings, See Brighter Outlook for Funding

Assembly speaker shepherds through legislation, optimistic that Christie will include more money in next state budget

NEW Prieto
Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Hudson)

The good news for vocational-technical school supporters was that Gov. Chris Christie signed five bills last week that will enhance their programs, including measures bolstering their links to local schools and industry.

The bad news was that Christie vetoed two bills that would have provided extra funding for the schools, including money for adult schools that were hit especially hard in state budget cuts three years ago.

But the prime sponsor of the vo-tech bills offered some words of hope yesterday, as Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto said he would likely include such funding in the next state budget – and that he expected the governor would leave the funding intact next time.

Christie said in his veto message that such funding should be included as part of the annual state budget process, not in mid-year legislation. Otherwise, he spoke well of the bill package, calling it an important investment in schools and students.

“If you read his veto message, that’s what I take away from it,” Prieto said in an interview, adding he also has had conversations with administration officials about the funding. “Reading the message, there was some hope.”

A former Assembly budget committee chairman, Prieto stopped short of guaranteeing that the money would be included in the next budget – no small sum at close to $10 million – when the state is facing a number of big expenses, not just for education, but also for transportation and pension liabilities.

But with plenty of power now as the Assembly speaker, Prieto said the funding would be a priority.

“I’m going to make every effort to get this funded in the budget,” he said.

Asked why this year would be any different than previous years in which vo-tech schools and others have faced increasing needs and tighter funding, Prieto said his position affords him some confidence.

“It’s different because I’m a Speaker who believes in a lot of issues involving education,” he said.

The governor’s bill signings, if not his vetoes, were largely celebrated last week among supporters ranging from the educators to legislators from both parties to the business community.

The bills Christie signed mandate the following:

  • Require New Jersey’s school performance reports to include specific indicators of student career readiness;

  • Require preparation programs for teachers and school counselors to include coursework to support improved student career readiness;

  • Establish a four-year county vocational school district facilities partnership grant program;

  • Require all school districts and public colleges to enter into dual-enrollment agreements to provide college-level instruction to high school students; and

  • Provide regulatory leeway for county vocational school districts’ programs held in industry settings and other offsite locations.

The bills he vetoed were the following:

  • A bill to restore funding to adult programs within vo-tech districts, estimated to cost at least $6.2 million for the students currently enrolled, never mind those lost with the 2010 cuts.

  • A bill to provide additional funding to vo-tech programs that have seen more than 10 percent growth in enrollment.

Much of the credit for the signings went to Prieto, who put his name behind the package early on and didn’t much let up.

“The speaker is a man of his word,” said Judy Savage, director of the NJ Council of County Vocational Technical Schools. “He said he would make this a priority, and he certainly did so.”

Prieto himself said getting five of seven bills signed is a pretty good percentage, and that he hopes to complete the deal in the coming budget cycle. ”I think this is a win-win for vocational education,” he said.

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