There was $40 million for a career and technical education project at the vo-tech in Atlantic County, approximately $25 million for projects in Bergen and Middlesex counties, and more than $15 million for efforts in Morris, Passaic, Somerset and Hunterdon counties.
In total, there was more than $220 million appropriated for 17 projects that will go to enhance CTE programs — the type of programs that are so desperately needed to help create the next-generation workforce.
And, although the money was expected — it was a result of the $500 million Securing our Children’s Future Bond Act that was approved by voters in November 2018 — Friday’s announcement by Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration of the first round of appropriations was still worthy of celebration, said Judy Savage, the executive director at the New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools.
“We knew this was in process — didn’t know exactly when the first round of projects would be advanced,” she said. “This is a big deal. It provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity for vocational-technical schools all across the state to move forward with projects that have long been contemplated and considered and, most of all, needed.
“The fact that the state is going to provide 75% of the cost of these projects is a complete game-changer in the way county leaders and the schools think about these things. This will enable them to go forward with lots of plans and great enthusiasm.”
How soon the impact will hit the state isn’t as clear.
The Legislature gets 60 days to consider the projects, and would be allowed to nix any of them if members feel the project does not live up to the meaning of the bond act. Savage thinks that’s highly unlikely to happen.
“The administration has gone through these projects with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that they meet the parameters and the goals for the bond act in terms of adding seats for more career and technical education students in the key industries that are crucial for the state’s economic future,” she said.
The projects — and their purposes — vary greatly.
Some will be new buildings, while others will be renovations. They could be for traditional vo-tech curricula, such as the construction trades, or for training the next generation of engineers or leaders in cybersecurity.
Savage said the impact will start to be felt this fall, but be in full swing by the time classes start in the fall of 2022.
And, while the money for county vo-tech programs tops the list of appropriations, it is not the only item. The governor also approved:
- School security projects: $65.4 million;
- County college CTE projects: $26 million;
- Water infrastructure projects: $5.6 million.
Approximately $183 million will be appropriate in a second round of funding.
Murphy said it is all money well spent.
“I have long believed that investments in our students and schools are investments in the future of our state,” he said. “These projects will help our school districts and institutions of higher education keep students safe and healthy, while also ensuring that they are ready for the careers of future.”
State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) agreed.
“This is an investment in future opportunities for our children,” he said. “It will help provide them with job skills for the modern workforce, improve their safety and security in schoolrooms, and protect their health and well-being by ensuring clean water.
“It is an investment in their future and in the future of New Jersey, and I look forward to reviewing the proposed projects.”
Savage said she already is looking forward to the next announcement.
“We hear from employers all the time that they just can’t get the skilled workforce that they need to grow their businesses,” she said. “These CTE programs remain in high demand.
“Expanding seats and starting some new career programs in high-demand areas like advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity is going to help, but this is going to be an ongoing process. As a state, we need to keep investing in this kind of career-focused education.”
Here’s a look at the four funding areas:
County vocational school CTE projects ($220 million)
These funds will go for construction projects that support CTE program expansion for county vocational school districts. These projects will fund renovations and new construction to increase student capacity in select county vocational CTE programs, including related demolition, site improvements and physical plant upgrades, and furniture and equipment in renovated, reassigned or new spaces related to county vocational CTE program expansion.
Applicants were required to demonstrate that new student seats would be in county vocational CTE programs that prepare students for high-demand, technically skilled careers.
The first round will fund these 17 projects.
County college CTE projects ($26 million)
These funds will enable county colleges to construct or expand classrooms, laboratories, libraries, computer facilities and other academic structures to increase CTE program capacity.
The first round will fund these seven projects.
Water infrastructure projects ($5.6 million)
Funds will be used for the construction, reconstruction, repair, rehabilitation or replacement of water supply infrastructure in K-12 schools. The second round of grant funding will be issued following lead testing results required during the 2021-2022 school year.
The first round will fund 26 projects.
School security projects ($65.4 million)
Funds will be used for the installation of silent panic alarms to alert law enforcement during an emergency, as required by Alyssa’s Law, and for other school security upgrades. Other school security upgrades include exterior lighting improvements, surveillance cameras, intercoms, remote locking/unlocking doors, shatter-resistant glass, signage improvements, generator installation and impact-rated vehicle barriers.
The first round will fund 494 proposed projects.